Opinion writer


Today Hillary Clinton’s new book about the 2016 campaign is getting released. This means a lot of very smart people will suddenly decide that they can’t keep these two ideas in their heads at the same time:

  1. Hillary Clinton, her weaknesses as a candidate, and the mistakes she made were partly to blame for her loss.
  2. There are other reasons she lost, and it is not only appropriate for her — and us — to discuss them; it’s desirable, because they have major implications for the future of our democracy.

Clinton’s book, by most accounts, tries to balance those two basic claims. I have not read it, so I can’t say whether it balances them fairly, or whether she feints toward blaming her own failings while dodging accountability for herself via an overemphasis on other causes. But a lot of Twitter traffic today suggests an unwillingness to allow space for the notion that both those claims can even be reconciled or discussed simultaneously at all. That’s absurd, and it could have terrible consequences.

To see why, let’s look at one claim the book makes that we can discuss in isolation (before assessing its overall balance in a future post): Her book reportedly has an extensive discussion of Russian interference in the election, and, crucially, it points a finger at congressional Republicans for failing to show a united front against it. As Jonathan Allen summarizes:

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, gets hit for “playing defense” for [President] Trump on Russia. “I can’t think of a more shameful example of a national leader so blatantly putting partisanship over national security,” Clinton writes of the Kentucky Republican. “McConnell knew better, but he did it anyway.”

[There] is a 50-page, point-by-point chronology of Russia’s involvement in the election and the Trump operation’s efforts to capitalize on it. That chapter — called “Trolls, Bots, Fake News and Real Russians” — puts it all in one place for the first time.

In an interview with USA Today, Clinton says she is “convinced” that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian sabotage. That goes too far — while we do know that top Trump officials were willing and eager to collude, we don’t know much of what happened beyond that. Let’s hope her book states clearly that the accusation remains largely unproven and subject to investigation.

However, Clinton is right to raise questions about the conduct of Republican lawmakers — McConnell in particular — when confronted in 2016 with the intelligence community’s conclusion and warning that Russia was trying to tip the election. The Post has reported that during the campaign, Obama administration officials privately presented evidence — which had been amassed by our intelligence services — of Russian interference to a bipartisan group of lawmakers, and asked them to present a united front against it. And then:

The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests. According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.

There is more to this story, and as Brian Beutler has argued in a post that puts together much of what is known about it, this matters not just for the blame game, but also for purposes of accountability. In this sense alone, Clinton is right to raise the issue: Even if Russian interference didn’t make the difference, we really do need to know more about the Republican refusal to join in a bipartisan effort to stop Russia from sabotaging our election and democracy. But she is also right to do so for another reason: Any failure of accountability could have consequences for the future.

The larger context is this: Trump continues to refuse to acknowledge that Russian sabotage of the election even happened at all. Yet our intelligence services have warned that Russia will hit our democracy in the future. It’s unclear how seriously the administration is taking the threat of more sabotage; some elections experts have warned that a lot more needs to be done, and state officials report getting too little security guidance from the administration. As the 2018 elections get closer, discussion of this topic will escalate. The difference between now and 2016 is that there are now major investigations underway into possible Trump campaign collusion with the last round of sabotage, and it is now public that the intel services say Russia will strike again. One would hope media scrutiny will make it harder for congressional Republicans to dodge their responsibility to take this subject more seriously this time, and to prod Trump to do the same.

If Clinton’s book can force more attention to this topic, that’s a good thing. Whatever one thinks of Clinton’s own culpability for her loss (my own effort to balance the blame is here), discussion of Russian meddling and Republican unconcern about it shouldn’t be overshadowed by some silly idea that focusing on these things constitutes Clinton dodging blame.

* REPUBLICANS DEEPLY ALARMED ABOUT RETIREMENTS: The Associated Press looks at the mounting retirements among House Republicans, and comments:

The developments have alarmed GOP operatives concerned that the trickle of retirements could turn into a flood unless congressional Republicans and Trump can come together and produce on their promises. …a number of Republicans on and off Capitol Hill have come to view tax reform of some kind as a must-pass priority, without which the dam would likely break on retirements and Republicans would be in serious jeopardy of losing control of the House.

Of course, this will increase the incentive to push through a massive tax cut that mostly benefits the rich while calling it “tax reform.”

* TRUMP PLANS MASSIVE ROAD SHOW ON TAX PLAN: Bloomberg Politics reports that Trump is planning to hit the road to sell his tax plan with visits to as many as 13 states:

The strategy … calls for the president to visit states he won where a Democratic senator is up for re-election next year, including Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. … The administration plans to mount the full-bore sales campaign even though congressional Republicans haven’t yet determined key elements of the plan.

Details, details. Who needs the details? One question will be whether Dems up for reelection in Trump states hold to Chuck Schumer’s principle that tax cuts must not benefit the top one percent.

* WHITE HOUSE AIDES WORRIED ABOUT MUELLER PROBE: Axios talks to “White House aides with legal exposure” to the probe of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and comes away with several conclusions:

Mueller is burrowing in hard on the obstruction of justice angle. The “angry, meandering draft White House justification for firing Comey — which was never released, but obtained by Mueller — could be used as evidence of Trump’s unvarnished thinking when venting to staff. … Republicans close to the White House say every sign by Mueller — from his hiring of Mafia and money-laundering experts to his aggressive pursuit of witnesses and evidence — is that he’s going for the kill.

This is just chatter, so take it for what it’s worth, but sometimes, where there’s chatter, there’s some semblance of reality.

* BOTH PARTIES GIVE THUMBS DOWN TO TRUMP’S DEEP CUTS: The New York Times has an interesting report on how Republicans and Democrats have joined to reject Trump’s proposed deep cuts to the National Institutes of Health. Not only that, but even Republicans are bragging about their role in saving funding for biomedical research.

As one health lobbyist puts it: “Neither the Senate nor the House paid much attention to the president’s recommendations.” Shockingly, it turns out that a lot of government spending is pretty popular.

* TRUMP ALLIES KEEP PUSHING NONSENSICAL SPIN: Kellyanne Conway tells Jeremy Peters that those awful congressional Republicans who are blocking Trump’s agenda are part of the swamp that Trump wanted to drain:

“Every single Republican on Capitol Hill at some point and at some level successfully ran and won on promises to do any number of things that the president is now is eager to execute. … And when Donald Trump promises to drain the swamp, it doesn’t just implicate K Street, it implicates lawmakers on Capitol Hill. This is a test for them as well.”

But again, if Trump’s agenda is so different from that of congressional Republicans, why has he fully embraced Paul Ryan’s priorities on so many fronts? Where is this Trumpist agenda?

* ROY MOORE, SENATOR??? NBC’s First Read crew looks at religious right candidate Roy Moore, who has said same-sex marriage will destroy the country, called Islam a “false religion” and posted the Ten Commandments in a court building, and concludes he might win:

The Republican runoff in Alabama’s Senate contest is two weeks away, and if the polls and conventional wisdom are right – and we know that’s not always the case – then Roy Moore is in the driver’s seat to become the state’s next U.S. senator. … if he wins, the conservative firebrand could very well become a household name within months, and he’s likely to give Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plenty of political headaches in the Senate.

Also, this is Stephen K. Bannon’s candidate, and if he wins, Bannon believes more Trumpist primary challengers to sitting GOP senators might emerge.

* BANNON’S BAD HISTORY, DEBUNKED: Bannon got lots of attention for saying that America “was built on her citizens” and on “economic nationalism,” while citing the 19th century as an example. Steve Inskeep sets the historical record straight:

Immigrants often contributed and also became citizens. … He’s right that Americans built a powerful country in the 19th century. But that country was diverse, fed off immigration, was constantly changing, and was not really walled off from the world.

As Inskeep also notes, Bannon’s nonsense about destroying the “administrative” state actually has a precursor in arguments used against 19th-century versions of Bannon’s economic nationalism.