The Comey Effect.

Did F.B.I. Director James Comey’s public statements about the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail cost Clinton the election?

On 19 October 2017, Hillary Clinton debated Donald Trump for the final time.  In the immediate aftermath of the debate, polls showed Clinton with as much as a 12 point lead over Trump.  However, by the morning of 28 October 2016, before Comey’s surprise announcement about re-opening the investigation in light of newly-discovered e-mails, national polls showed Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by only 6 percent.

Then came Comey’s statement of 28 October 2016.  Polls showed a sharp drop in support for Clinton.  However, some confusion arose and persists.  The results of a number of polls taken before the Comey announcement of 28 October 2016 were not published until after the announcement.  These showed an even sharper drop in support for Clinton than more widely noticed polls revealed.  “In retrospect, there is virtually no evidence to support the view that Mrs. Clinton really had a six-point lead by Oct. 28,…”  Because the findings of the polls were published after the announcement, commentators lumped these results with other polls conducted after Comey made his announcement.[1]  This made it appear that Comey’s announcement had a greater effect on Clinton’s mushy support than was the case.

Obviously this analysis targets only Comey’s second intervention in the election.  The first came with his public announcement that no criminal charges would be pursued against Mrs. Clinton over her use of a private e-mail server.  He went on to excoriate her careless handling of security issues.  Doubtless this incident did Clinton far more harm than did the October announcement.[2]   However, one early account of the Clinton campaign by friendly observers indicts the campaign from first to last as fatally flawed by incompetence and arrogance.[3]  This carnival created the situation in which Comey’s  statements could have such effect.

In any event, James Comey now has time to work on his memoirs.

[1] Nate Cohn, “An Election Review: There’s Reason to Be Skeptical of a Comey Effect,” NYT, 9 May 2017.

[2] On all this, see: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2016/12/13/the-hacked-election/ and https://waroftheworldblog.com/2017/03/31/the-james-comey-show/.

[3] See Michiko Kakutani, “Charting Hillary Clinton’s Course for the Iceberg,” NYT, 18 April 2017; and Barton Swaim, “Hillary the Unready,” WSJ, 18 April 2017.

The James Comey Show.

The F.B.I. has rules against interfering in politics and rules against being interfered with by politicians.  Recent events have shown how difficult it has become to maintain that rule when some politicians have wandered far from normal behavior.  Back in Fall 2016, President Barack Obama’s Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, had to investigate the handling of e-mail messages by former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.[1]  Then AG Lynch got into the glue for having had a private meeting with former President Bill Clinton.  She announced that F.B.I. director James Comey would have a free hand to run the Clinton investigation.  In July 2016, at the end of the investigation, Comey held a press conference to announce that Clinton would not be prosecuted, although he condemned her careless handling of sensitive e-mails.  Democrats roundly abused Comey for making his less-than-positive remarks while an election loomed.  Then, in October 2016, Comey announced that the investigation had been re-opened when a bunch of Clinton e-mails were discovered on the lap-top that Clinton aide Huma Abedin shared with her husband.[2]

Shortly before the election, Rudy Giuliani, a Trump supporter, announced that a “pretty big surprise” was coming.  Later Giuliani said that his sources were former, not currently serving, FBI agents.[3]  Several days later, Comey announced that the newly-discovered e-mails were just duplicates of previously examined e-mails.  Again, Democrats roundly condemned Comey for meddling in an election.  Bitter partisan strife followed.

In late January 2017, at the request of Democrats in Congress, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice opened an investigation of how Comey had managed the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s sloppy handling of her e-mail while Secretary of State.[4]  The scope of the investigation included both Comey’s original press conference and his decision to announce the re-opening of the investigation less than two weeks before Election Day.

Early in March 2017, reports circulated of an F.B.I. investigation into allegations of contacts between members of the Trump entourage and various Russians.  White House chief-of-staff Reince Priebus asked Comey to tell the press that no such investigation existed.  The White House also solicited Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House committee investigating the Russian involvement in the election, to tell reporters that the story was bunk.  Comey refused because a) there was an investigation going on and b) politicians—like Priebus—weren’t supposed to interfere.  Apparently, intelligence sources leaked word of the spat to the press.[5]

Three weeks after having refused to deny that there was an investigation, Comey said that “in unusual circumstances, it may be appropriate” for the F.B.I. to comment on an on-going investigation.  Then he confirmed, during public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, that the F.B.I. is investigating contacts between the Russians and the Trump entourage.[6]  Democrats condemned Comey for having thrown Clinton “under the bus” in Fall 2016.

James Comey has been—repeatedly—thrown into an uncomfortable position by the actions of other people.  So far, none of the complaining gets us closer to the truth(es).

[1] See: “The Hacked Election.”  https://waroftheworldblog.com/2016/12/13/the-hacked-election/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

[2] Habitually described as the “disgraced… Anthony Weiner.”

[3] So, do current FBI agents meet up with still serving colleagues at various Washington, DC watering-holes to talk about old times and…?

[4] “FBI’s Comey investigated over election conduct,” The Week, 27 January 2017, p. 5.

[5] “Russia investigation: A special prosecutor?” The Week, 10 March 2017, p. 16.

[6] “Comey reveals Trump-Russia probe,” The Week, 31 March 2017, p. 5.

Clinton versus Putin.

While a majority of Republicans once believed that fair-play meant that the Republican convention should nominate the candidate who had won the most votes in the primaries, a majority (54 percent) of Republicans now wish that the party had not chosen Donald Trump as the candidate.  About a third (35 percent) believes that Trump was the best choice available.  Obviously, the latter figure doesn’t mean Trump alone.  It may be more of a statement about the Republican candidates who ran against Trump.  The Democrats aren’t in much better shape about Hillary Clinton.  Almost half (47 percent) of those who plan to vote for her will do so chiefly to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.  Scarcely a third (32 percent) are actually pro-Clinton.  More broadly, two thirds (66 percent) of all voters believe that HRC is dishonest, while less than a third (29 percent) believe that she is not dishonest.  Again obviously, the “Hillary is dishonest” camp includes every single Republican and a bunch of Independents.  Amidst the Viking funeral of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, people should attend to the recent poll reporting that 74 percent of Trump’s supporters think that Hillary Clinton should be in prison.[1]  How deeply that view has penetrated the minds of ordinary Democrats is unknown.[2]

This could have consequences for the 2016 presidential election.  A lot of people will vote for Hillary Clinton in order to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.

Unless, perhaps, they think that she is crooked.  “Crooked Hillary” has become a standard phrase in the speeches of Donald Trump.  This charge arises from Trump’s abrasive discourse and datcourse.  However, it gains traction from the perception that Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation engaged in unseemly practices during her time as Secretary of State.  The release of several documents from the investigation of Clinton by the EffaBeeEye has poured gasoline on this particular fire.

Earlier reports indicated that HRC’s e-mail had probably been compromised.  Trump invited the Russians to reveal what they had learned from the 30,000-plus “personal” e-mails that Clinton had ordered deleted from her private server.  Some people misconstrued this as an invitation to “hack” her private server.  The server seems to have been shut-down long ago, so it cannot now be hacked.  Trump’s hope seems to be that the Russians will reveal damaging information about Clinton’s private dealings with donors to the Clinton Foundation while she served as Secretary of State.

It seems reasonable to expect such “revelations.”  There is a lot of bad blood between Clinton and the Russian soon-to-be-tsar Vladimir Putin.  While serving as Secretary of State, Clinton challenged Putin’s authority in a country where being on the wrong side of the government can get you killed.  In early 2011, she, among others, deceived the Russians about American intentions in Libya.[3]  In December 2011, she described Russian elections as plagued by “electoral fraud.”[4]    If the Russkies have incriminating evidence, they may dump it.

Now the New York Times seems to be lighting “back-fires” in preparation for an “October surprise.”[5]

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 12 August 2016, p. 18.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 9 September 2016, p.17.

[3] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2014/09/28/obama-versus-putin/

[4] See: http://dailycaller.com/2016/07/25/dec-2011-hillary-clinton-angers-putin-demands-investigation-into-russian-electoral-fraud/

[5] Neil MacFarquhar, “A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories,” NYT, 28 August 2016; Jo Becker, Steven Erlanger, and Eric Schmitt, “How Russia Often Benefits When Julian Assange Reveals the West’s Secrets,” NYT, 31 August 2016.

Trump l’oeil 1.

Just over a third (38 percent) of Republicans are satisfied with Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee.[1]  How will they respond in November?  Will they turn out in full force to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House?  Will some sit out the election?  The Republican Party needs a big turn-out.  Even if they don’t want Trump as president, they do want lots of Republicans to vote for all the other candidates down ballot.  The Republicans seem likely to retain control of the House, but control of the Senate doesn’t seem to be a lock.  Then there are all the state and local races.  How to get Republicans to turn out in large numbers?

There are two answers.  First, Clinton is deeply unpopular with all Republicans (and many Independents).  Keeping Clinton out of the White House probably will overshadow putting Trump into the White House as a Republican campaign theme.[2]  This is going to get very ugly, even by current standards.  The foolish Benghazi investigation has been done to death.  However, F.B.I. Director James Comey’s brutally honest assessment of her e-mail issue hurt her on the competence argument that she wants to make against Trump.  Polls run after Comey’s press conference reported a 5 point fall in her favorability rating and a 7 point fall in her honesty and trustworthiness ratings.[3]  This is worth pondering.  The honesty and trustworthy score fell more than the favorability score.  Some 2 percent of the respondents think worse of her as a person, but still prefer her as the candidate.  That’s because Trump is the rival candidate.  However, it also shows that personal attacks can drive down her favorability rate.

Clinton has provided a lot to work with here.  Both the Clinton Foundation and her post-Secretary of State speeches are still ripe for the plucking.  It should come as no surprise if the Republican rage-generators use these topics as a device to portray Clinton as an influence-peddler, or bribe-taker, or even extortionist.  This could end in a scorched-earth campaign founded on fanning the flames of personal animus.[4]  The day after the election, Americans are going to wake up to a legacy of ill-feeling and failure to address real issues.

Second, Republicans have already begun to sell themselves on the idea that a President Trump could be “managed” by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.  Solid Republican majorities in the House and Senate would give them control over the Trump administration’s legislative agenda.  In this view, Trump really is just an empty suit who wants to fly around on Air Force One and tell the U.N. to its face where it can get off.  There is a large measure of self-delusion in this view.  Trump is a guy from New York City.  Regardless of anything he has said so far, he probably doesn’t believe in a “right to life”; probably isn’t any more homophobic than most Americans (Republican or Democrat); and isn’t a racist just because he takes a really hard line on both illegal immigration and immigration from Muslim countries “compromised” by Islamist terrorism.  “Because the New York Times says so” isn’t much of an argument.[5]  A guy who has used corporate bankruptcy to force his creditors to write down a lot of debt isn’t going to feel that McConnell and Ryan have got him over a barrel once he becomes President.  What is a Republican Senate going to do if Trump nominates Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court?

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 29 July 2016, p. 17.

[2] Probably there will be a lot of work for Trump-wranglers to keep him from saying or doing something that makes her seem the less-repellant candidate.

[3] “Clinton: a wounded candidate,” The Week, 29 July 2016.

[4] There is a certain passing similarity to Democrats’ personality-based attacks on Richard Nixon throughout his career.  None of that did America any good.

[5] See the column by NYT Public Editor Liz Spayd, “Why Readers See The Times as Liberal,” NYT, 24 July 2016.

An ugly election is shaping up.

First, Wall Street is all that stands between America and a Trump presidency!  As Donald Trump slew a succession of mainstream or even not-so-mainstream Republican dragons, the financial industry turned with a will to supporting Hillary Clinton.  Wall Street’s role rose from 32 percent of her campaign contributions in 2015 to 53 percent in March 2016.[1]  Clinton has shrugged off the criticism in this regard directed at her by Democratic rival Bernie Sanders.[2]

At the same time, just over half (51 percent) of 18-29 year-olds do not support capitalism.  A third (33 percent) do support socialism.[3]  That said, it isn’t clear what those polled mean by “capitalism” or “socialism.”  Still, Bernie Sanders is running at a time when many young people are more estranged from the accepted economic system than are their elders.  In the nature of things, the elders are going to die before the younger.  Sanders and his message may help shape the long-term attitudes of an entire generation.  Clinton’s support from Wall Street might confirm their beliefs.  Moreover, that support might make it difficult for Clinton to rally the support of many Sandersites, regardless of what course he follows.

Second, almost two-thirds of Americans in general (62 percent) think that their “beliefs and values are under attack.”[4]  Virtually all (85 percent) Republicans believe that their “beliefs and values are under attack.”  This includes 91 percent of the supporters of Donald Trump.  Thus, Trump isn’t far off what a lot of Republicans say, even if they don’t like the way Trump says it.  So, are Trump’s voters really angry over economic issues or are cultural issues at the heart of this movement?  Poll trolls report that 80 percent of Trumpsters believe that “the government has gone too far in assisting minority groups,” and that 85 percent believe that the US has “lost its identity.”  In the wake of Ferguson and BLM, and President Obama’s executive orders on illegal immigrants, this election could be about race.

Third, it’s going to be a case of voters holding their noses and picking the least bad option.  As of mid-May 2016, only 33 percent of people had a favorable view of the Republican Party, while 62 percent had an unfavorable view.  That’s a minus 29.  That hasn’t sent people streaming to the Democrats.  Only 45 percent had a favorable view of the Democratic Party and 50 percent had an unfavorable view.  That’s a minus 5.  However, 25 percent take an unfavorable view of both parties.[5]

The unfavorable gap is wide for both likely presidential nominees.  Hilary Clinton is at minus 24 (56 percent unfavorable versus 32 percent favorable); Donald Trump is at minus 41 (65 percent unfavorable versus 24 percent favorable).[6]  The majority of people polled have an unfavorable view of both candidates.  Almost half (46 percent) of Clinton’s supporters attribute their main motive to voting for her to the need to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.  Slightly more (47 percent) of Trump voters say that their main motive is to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House.[7]

Regardless of who wins, this election is liable to leave a bad taste in the mouths of most Americans.  Worse, neither candidate looks like a healer.

[1] “Noted,” The Week, 20 May 2016, p. 18.

[2] Given Wall Street’s history, the question is whether a Clinton “bubble” is growing.  If such a “bubble” bursts, will it happen before the election or afterward?

[3] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 6 May 2016, p. 17.

[4] Lost the reference to this article.

[5] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 13 May 2016, p. 17.

[6] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 29 April 2016, p. 17.

[7] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 20 May 2016, p. 19.

Young People These Days.

Barack Obama cleaned up among voters aged 18 to 29.  In 2008, he won 66 percent of them; in 2012 he won 60 percent of them.[1]  Now, a series of polls suggest that many young people don’t like Donald Trump.[2]  In one poll, people under 35 preferred Hillary Clinton (52 percent) to Trump (19 percent).  Another poll reported that people under 40 preferred Clinton over Trump by two-to-one (roughly 60 percent to 30 percent).

However, the situation is more complicated than that.  A generational divide appears in the polls.  For one thing, the Democratic advantage among young people is dropping.  It has fallen from 66 percent in 2008 to 60 percent in 2012 to at best 52 percent in 2016.  Indeed, one poll reported that among people aged 19 to 26, while a mere 9 percent preferred Trump, only 11 percent preferred Clinton.[3]  Young people want “that hopey-changey thing.”   Either failing to deliver on it or looking like you don’t believe in it in the first place can hurt a candidate.

The same poll reported that 31 percent preferred Bernie Sanders.  Young people lean left.  Their big concerns appear to be related to the distribution of benefits from the economy: the cost of college; student debt that results from that cost, and the “economic inequality” that makes it difficult to pay off that debt.  The poll that reported Bernie Sanders drawing 31 percent of those aged 19 to 26 years, also reported that 58 percent saw socialism as a more humane system than capitalism, while 33 percent saw capitalism as a more humane system than socialism.  That’s bad for Republicans without being good for mainstream Democrats.  Yet another poll reported that Trump was favored over other Republican candidates by 26 percent of the 18 to 34.  (OK, the poll didn’t report how many Republicans are 18 to 34.)

This preference could have long term consequences when looking forward.  At least one study suggests that the most important period for setting political preferences comes between the ages of 14 and 24 years of age.  “Events”—impressions, really—that happen at age 18 are three times as influential as things that happen at age 40.  So, would a Donald Trump candidacy sink the Republican Party for a whole generation by alienating young people?

However, the same theory can be applied looking backward.  One poll showed that Clinton and Trump running a dead-heat among voters over 40 years of age.  If their formative political experiences came between ages 14 and 24, then, for those aged:

40-50: born 1965-1975; formative experiences from 1979-1999.

50-60: born 1955-1965; formative experiences from 1969-1989.

60-70: born 1945-1955; formative experiences from 1959-1979.

If any of this is true, then—at least in psychological terms–there is a good chance that the election of 2016 will be about our troubled past.  To seek the dark cloud around any silver lining, this might mean that the election will be about flunked wars; unsettling technological change  that never seems to work to the advantage of the country that creates so much of it; economic upheaval that profits the few; scandal-plagued presidencies; now-ancient grievances; and big talk from politicians that rarely turns into effective action

            Despite the rhetoric about a “great America,” it will not be about the possible futures of our children.  They will not thank us.  Nor should they.

[1] Why the drop in support of almost 10 percent among this age group?  Did a bunch of them age-out and become more conservative?

[2] Toni Monkovic, “Lasting Damage for G.O.P.?  The Young Reject Trump,” NYT, 24 March 2016.  Well, Trump’s got a thick hide.  He’ll survive.

[3] So, pretty much a dead heat.  Just in a race for the bottom.