Which party’s prospects do you favor the most: the party whose front-runner is Donald Trump, or the party whose front-runner is now under investigation by the FBI for mishandling “Top Secret” information?
Well, neither one, I suppose. But there’s good reason to believe Trump’s lead is only temporary. As Sean Trende explains, this is the traditional period in the summer before the primaries when voters go shopping around for an alternative, and previous front-runners at this point have flamed out and disappeared once the real voting gets under way. Meanwhile, Republicans have more serious alternatives to Trump who are gaining in the polls.
But Clinton is not a temporary infatuation within a much wider and deeper Democratic field. She is once again the “inevitable” Democratic front-runner for whom the field had to be cleared.
It’s entirely possible, of course, that Hillary Clinton will beat the rap. The Clintons have a long history of figuring out how to float free and unencumbered above the law. Already, some of their faithful water-carriers in the press are figuring out how to recast the story to deflect blame from the Queen. Take this imaginative effort:
One thing that's abundantly clear from Clinton email issue is our government probably ought to come up with actual classification standards.
Jonathan Allen (@jonallendc) August 12, 2015
That’s right. The problem isn’t that Hillary Clinton set up an unsecure e-mail account on a private server to which she funneled classified e-mails. The problem is that the federal government, gosh darn it, just creates too much confusion about what is really classified and what isn’t. It all depends on what the meaning of the word “classified” is.
Whatever the actual result of this inquiry, it contributes to the stench of scandal that already engulfs the Clintons and inspires acid parodies like this one.
And it’s not just on the right. The Obama administration has been extremely aggressive in prosecuting minor officials for mishandling of classified material. That’s how they took down General Petraeus, and Glenn Greenwald points out that Bradley/Chelsea Manning is currently doing 35 years in federal prison without having leaked a single “Top Secret” document. So the idea that Hillary Clinton can just skate by is going to be grating for the more idealistic souls on the left.
Which helps explain the other big news: a new poll from New Hampshire which shows Bernie Sanders stealing the lead from Hillary Clinton, 44% to 37%. Back in March, Clinton led Sanders 44% to 8%. This helps remind us how Hillary Clinton lost her inevitability in 2008. She was viewed as the candidate of personal ambition and calculation, who would tell voters whatever they wanted to hear but who wasn’t really committed to her own rhetoric. Barack Obama’s appeal was that he actually seemed to believe all the hoary old socialist slogans, as if central planning and the welfare state were still new, untried, and promising ideas. Which is precisely what Bernie Sanders is offering the Democratic Party right now.
There’s a good chance Sanders won’t make it, that he will appeal to a small core of true believers but be too radical or not presidential enough for a wide swath of Democratic voters. It wouldn’t be the first time an insurgent candidate pulled ahead in one of the early primaries but failed to unseat the establishment favorite.
But Hillary Clinton’s problems are now serious enough that we can start asking what will happen when she is not inevitable—and who else the Democratic Party has to turn to. Well, there’s always the famously loose-lipped Joe Biden, the Democrats’ answer to Donald Trump. Or Martin O’Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore, which is hardly a credential to recommend him.
Democrats have been chuckling at the “clown show” of a crowded Republican field, but at least the GOP has a lot of good fallback options. Democrats may not have anyone prominent enough and experienced enough to turn to. And they will have brought it on themselves by coronating someone who so obviously suffers the hubris of thinking she doesn’t have to live by the same rules as ordinary mortals.
Come to think of it, perhaps this debacle is a tribute to the price the Democrats are paying for all the old pieties they abandoned, including the one about not giving special privileges to the powerful—an idea widely associated with such political leaders as Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, the very people the Democrats are now purging from their party’s history. This was an ideal that was never fully honored; remember the saga of the Kennedy family. But Hillary Clinton is the contemporary poster child for special privileges for the rich and powerful. In embracing her, Democrats were asking for a scandal like this. And in clearing the field for her, they were asking for that scandal to turn into a disaster for the whole party.