Belmont Club

Neck and Neck

The dump of emails exposing the Democratic National Committee’s bias against Sanders’ campaign following back to back attacks by Syrian refugees in Germany has exposed the fundamental vulnerability of Hillary Clinton’s campaign to events. While Clinton will unquestionably dominate the talking points wars against her rivals, the catastrophes caused by the administration’s incompetence threaten to level the count. USA Today captures the nature of the respective Trump and Clinton scandals:

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have one thing in common: Their conventions got off to rocky starts. For Trump, it was a plagiarism scandal that surfaced after wife Melania’s speech on the first night of the convention. For Clinton, it was an uproar over the release of nearly 20,000 party emails by Wikileaks ahead of the convention’s start, some of which showed Democratic staffers favoring Clinton over her primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Hillary’s problems are materially the more serious. “Inside the White House, aides and lawyers have been poring through the Wikileaks dump all weekend. There’s a lot of flagging of potential problems, but also a lot of eye-rolling and disbelief about what Wasserman Schultz and her staff were thinking, and that they were putting it in emails.”  Trump is potentially disastrous — which is bad until one realizes that Hillary is actually disastrous.

There is no easy exit for Hillary from this problem. Attempts to spin the email dump as an effort by the Kremlin to favor Donald Trump have resurrected the issue of Clinton’s own homebrew email server.  That is something she hoped was dead and buried.  Now the public is face to face with an actual instance of a compromise, one moreover that makes it hard to believe that if the DNC could be cleaned out by Julian Assange (or more probably the Russians) that the same has not already happened to Hillary’s email arrangements.

Hillary’s handlers must at least contemplate the contingency that the Kremlin will release Hillary’s emails next with incalculable results. Nor will blaming the Russians entirely exculpate her. Her campaign cannot argue that Putin is winning the day for Trump without simultaneously admitting their own incompetence in the face of the wily Russian. How does one explain how Putin blew past the smartest woman in the world and the most intelligent president in history assisted by a plethora of 3-letter agencies?  If the exploits attributed to Putin by Hillary’s supporters are true then he has made monkeys out of the entire American political establishment — including Hillary herself.

The question of whether spin or events is to get the upper hand is now paramount.  The essence of the race is captured by Rowan Scarborough’s Washington Examiner story:  “Troops fear Obama rushing Mosul offensive to influence election”.

Some U.S. officers in Baghdad believe the Obama administration is rushing plans for a Mosul offensive so it takes place before the November presidential election, a retired general says. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero said his contacts in Baghdad have relayed the concerns to him, fearing there is now an “artificial timeline” for what promises to be by far the toughest battle in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq.

The evident hope is that a sudden flurry at the end of the round will convince the judges that Obama is winning the bout against terror in the Middle East, even though his Jayvee opponent has won the last 12 of 13 rounds.  The Mosul campaign will not be about victory but the appearance of victory. In a larger sense the entire survival strategy of the status quo depends on whether appearances can outweigh perceived reality. From a narrative point of view the administration’s fate hangs upon the ability of its damage control parties to paper over the destruction caused by its own blunders.

Logically it depends on whether one buys Paul Krugman’s argument that people should elect Hillary because no one could be worse than Trump. The absurdity of the situation is captured in the Hill’s headline: “Trump, Clinton intelligence briefings likely to start next week”, which highlights the paradox of the two least trusted national political figures being elevated to the highest positions of responsibility simply because the Republican and Democratic parties have left the voters little choice; to choose one out of dread of the other; where, in Otto von Bismarck’s words, it is being urged to commit suicide out of a fear of death.

The race between spin and disaster is likely to continue all the way up until election day, as the status quo attempts to outpace its own debacles. Global populism is spread not so much on its own modest merits but on the tide of public reaction to elitist governance. Like some vast historical Ponzi machine, it must stay ahead of the game. If enough bad news piles up between now and November, the mighty Clinton machine might lose. If things stay quiet, it may yet give her spin machine time to erect the rainbow bridge she can mount to the highest office in the land, for a time at least.

Which result will emerge is contingent. Nobody knows what events will bring. Not even Putin, who to hear either side tell it, wins by a landslide whoever triumphs in November.

As Debbie Wasserman Schultz put it, “thank all of you for your incredible support”.

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