Yes, it was pretty surprising last Friday when FBI Director James Comey seemed to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Agents apparently found emails on a device used by former congressman Anthony Weiner, you know Mr. Sexting that may be related to the FBI’s probe of Clinton’s private email server. It surprised me on many levels:
- That Comey thought this was worthy of announcing. None of the emails were actually from Clinton or originated on her server.
- That they were found on Weiner’s device. My guess is that his wife at the time, close Clinton confidant Huma Abedin needed to do some remote office stuff, and borrowed his computer.
- That Comey went ahead and made the announcement in spite of being warned by many in the Justice Department and from people on his own staff not to do so.
- That he was apparently unmindful, or did not care, that doing so would open him to a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from interfering with elections.
In any event, it was a well-timed Halloween surprise, and maybe that October surprise against Clinton that apparently Wikileaks didn’t get around to. It managed to dominate the news all weekend. It predictably had Republicans both outraged and cheering an anticipated political effect. A poll suggested that Trump was now leading Clinton in the crucial swing state of Florida. And of course Donald Trump was busy making false comparisons, ludicrously saying this was “worse than Watergate”. Umm, in what universe is the possibility that there might be some unknown and classified email related to the Clinton email investigation remotely similar to a constitutional crisis? It isn’t of course, but it does feed the Republican narrative that the secretive Hillary Clinton recklessly propagated classified email on insecure servers.
The real question is whether this will affect the election in eight days. Some polls show a tightening of the race. If you look at the polls though the tightening is easily explained: Republicans who had qualms about Donald Trump are coming home. The same is true with Democrats, which is why Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s modest numbers are also dropping. So the polls are now showing Clinton with a 3 to 5 percent advantage over Trump, kind of where we were six months ago.
Undoubtedly there are some truly undecided voters out there and this may push them closer toward Trump and away from Clinton. There are so few of these though that it really makes little difference and by themselves they can’t sway this election. It does make some swing states less swingy, possibly erasing Clinton’s advantages in Ohio and Florida. What it doesn’t look likely to do is fundamentally change the dynamics of the race. To change it a whole lot of Democrats have to dump Hillary and that’s unlikely to happen. And that’s unlikely because this is a national election and turnout is likely to be high.
Trump can hope this demoralizes Democrats so they don’t vote but more likely it will enthuse the anti-Clinton Republicans who otherwise can’t stomach Trump and were planning to sit this one out. He’s also pretty clearly hoping that he can get his people to show up in minority neighborhoods to intimidate Democratic voters. BTW, by openly calling for this a federal judge may keep in place a consent decree against the Republican National Committee in place since the early 1980s when Republicans last tried this tactic. It is scheduled to expire next year.
So there is small chance that this will do much to change Hillary’s election, but it may make the electoral win smaller. It may energize Republicans and demoralize Democrats, suppressing the vote in legal ways, which could have some bad consequences for Democrats, perhaps not winning the Senate and making fewer gains in House races. This would make it much harder for President Hillary Clinton to govern.
However, all the absentee and early voting already underway mitigates this. By some estimates 20% of voters have already voted. If you are worried about intimidation at the polls, early voting is the way to avoid it, as many minority voters are discovering. Comparing early voting patterns this year with 2012 generally shows more Democrats are voting early than Republicans. Among them: me. I voted last Tuesday because I will be traveling on Election Day.
Clinton was always unlikely to trigger a wave election. A week ago it was looking that way because Trump kept digging his hole further, leaving him with only core supporters voting for him. A wave may still happen, but now it’s looking more like a 5-8 point Clinton win, still very impressive, assuming there are no more newsworthy events to rock either campaign. Clinton should easily top 300 electoral votes. I suspect she will be closer to 350 than 300. We’ll see soon enough.