News & Politics

Comey's Non-Indictment Indictment of Hillary a 'Ready-Made Attack Ad'

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, seen in reflection (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The New York Times‘ Patrick Healy, who can’t seem to decide which side of the Hillary question he comes down on (“historic” or “corrupt”), follows up yesterday’s big non-news with the newspaper’s customary political angle: is it good for the Democrats, or bad for the Democrats?

Hillary Clinton may not be indicted on criminal charges over her handling of classified email, but the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, all but indicted her judgment and competence on Tuesday — two vital pillars of her presidential candidacy — and in the kind of terms that would be politically devastating in a normal election year.

The silver lining for Mrs. Clinton is that this is not a normal election year.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign is built on the premise that she has the national security experience and well-honed instincts to keep Americans safe in the age of terrorism, and that Donald J. Trump does not. Nearly every day, she seeks to present herself as a more thoughtful and responsible leader… Yet in just a few minutes of remarks, Mr. Comey called into question Mrs. Clinton’s claims of superiority more memorably, mightily and effectively than Mr. Trump has over the entire past year. And with potentially lasting consequences.

So, not good, right?

To her charge that he is “reckless,” Mr. Trump may now respond by citing Mr. Comey’s rebuke: that Mrs. Clinton and her team “were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” To her promises to defend the United States, Mr. Trump may now retort with Mr. Comey’s warning that “it is possible that hostile actors gained access” to Mrs. Clinton’s email account and the top secret information it contained.

And to her reproofs about his temperament and responsibility, Mr. Trump may now point to Mr. Comey’s finding that “there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes” on handling classified information — though Mr. Comey said that other factors, like Mrs. Clinton’s intent, argued against criminal charges. Worst of all was the totality of Mr. Comey’s judgment about Mrs. Clinton’s judgment.

Yeah… but what about Trump?

A more conventional Republican nominee would probably already be using Mr. Comey’s remarks to churn out new attack ads and bombarding television and radio audiences until every voter had heard the phrase “extremely careless” more than he or she could count. A typical nominee would have allies memorizing Mr. Comey’s best lines and repeating them on cable news and at local political events — assailing Mrs. Clinton’s judgment and experience to exploit and deepen the mistrust that many Americans feel toward her, and to drive up her unfavorability ratings in public opinion polls.

But Mr. Trump is not typical. He has reserved relatively little television advertising time in swing states. He prefers to launch attacks over Twitter and at campaign rallies rather than to use commercials or surrogates as force multipliers. And he has a tendency to choose the wrong targets and overcomplicate his arguments. On Tuesday, for instance, he chose to attack Mr. Comey for not bringing charges against Mrs. Clinton, writing on Twitter, “The system is rigged.”

We shall see. One of the chief complaints from the #neverTrumpumpkin side, which largely consists of “Edmund Burke” movement conservatives who cast their first votes for George H.W. Bush and the krack kadres of kampaign konsultants who’ve temporarily lost their livelihoods this election cycle, is that Trump is… wait for it… running an unconventional campaign.

Whether his reliance on rallies and social media works, we’ll soon enough find out. But there’s no doubt that it’s already worked, in demolishing the well-funded candidacies of Jeb Bush and others at the cost of setting up a neighborhood lemonade stand. There’s no doubt that Trump and the GOP will eventually use Comey’s words in a series of attack ads, probably after Labor Day when normal human beings start paying attention to the upcoming election.

Until then, however, he’s likely to continue to harp on the notion that Washington is a corrupt, incestuous cesspool of crony political/media/moneybags, a rigged system in which the laws are unequally applied and the little guy stands no chance. And, after yesterday, who’s to say that it isn’t?