So did James Comey on Sunday lift the cloud that was hurting Hillary Clinton’s chances to win the election Tuesday?
I suspect not. In fact, he may have done more harm than good. Why? Because I think she gets hurt every time her emails get mentioned, period.
Everyone recalls his big announcement over the summer when he said the FBI had found nothing worth filing charges over. But I also recall what happened a couple of days before that, on the Saturday that the FBI had one last interview with Sec. Clinton before Comey’s announcement.
The effect was, to me, quite weird. Word of the interview came on Saturday, July 2. I remember marveling at all the bulletins I was getting about it on my phone. The reaction seemed excessive, since we knew nothing except that she had been interviewed. I wondered even more when news analysis over the next couple of days was all about how this new hurt her campaign. The Washington Post‘s take at the time:
Hillary Clinton’s weekend interview with the FBI stands as a perfect symbol of what is probably her biggest liability heading into the fall election: A lot of people say they don’t trust her.
Clinton sat for an interview of more than three hours as part of a Justice Department investigation into the privately owned email system she operated off the books when she was secretary of state. The timing — less than three weeks before she will claim the Democratic presidential nomination — is an attempt to make the best of a situation that would look bad for any candidate but is particularly damaging for Clinton.
That the interview at FBI headquarters was voluntary does not expunge the whiff of suspicion surrounding the entire email affair that, for many voters, confirms a long-held view that Clinton shades the truth or plays by her own rules….
I thought that rather weird at the time. Then, of course, on July 5 — mere seconds after I had posted about how odd it was, Comey had his long “no charges” presser. Which sorta kinda relieved a lot of Democrats (he had a lot of critical things to say, too) and infuriated Republicans.
Fast-forward to Comey’s announcement 10 days ago that the FBI was looking at some more emails. Enormous damage was done to the Clinton candidacy, with her dropping in polls, infuriating Democrats and cheering up Trump supporters. And yet — think about this — there was no substance whatsoever in the announcement. There was no indication that there would be anything in the new emails that would reflect badly on the former secretary.
But was, undeniably, bad for her nevertheless.
My theory is this: We long ago passed a point at which any sentence that contains “Hillary Clinton” and “emails” is, in the collective mind of the electorate, a bad thing. And with good reason — she shouldn’t have set up the private server to begin with.
But it’s also a sort of mushy bad thing, without clear lines demarcating “good” and “bad,” so that even if the full sentence is “Hillary Clinton’s emails contain nothing incriminating,” the less detail-oriented parts of our brains still go “bad” at hearing the first three words together.
So it is that her candidacy was harmed when Comey brought up the words again 10 days ago, even without any information letting us know whether the news was indeed bad.
And, I suspect, it was harmed again yesterday when Comey essentially said, “There’s still nothing incriminating in Hillary Clinton’s emails.” As far as the political effect is concerned, we all heard only the last three words.
Here’s what I mean: I doubt the news tipped many people from planning to vote for Trump to planning to vote for Clinton. Or even from staying home, or voting third-party, to voting for Clinton.
But it once again infuriated the Republican base — including, I suspect, a lot of Republicans who were reluctant to vote for Trump, but who now are freshly reminded of how much they despise Hillary Clinton. They were kind of coasting along there experiencing various degrees of satisfaction from 10 days ago, and then BAM! — they’re outraged. Which can’t be good for her.
Please tell me I’m wrong…