Here’s what happened to Hillary Clinton on Tuesday: She learned that the FBI investigation into her emails would end without charges being filed. Her political opponents embarrassed themselves with hissy fits and tantrums. And the best campaigner in America fired up her supporters at a nationally televised rally in a crucial swing state.
That’s not a good day, it’s a great day.
All year, the question of Clinton’s emails had hung over her presidential bid. Despite what her opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, told her in their first debate – that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails” – Clinton knew how dangerous the issue was. FBI investigations go wherever the evidence leads; and federal prosecutors have the power to ruin lives, to say nothing of presidential campaigns.
In the end, Clinton had to endure harsh words from FBI Director James Comey. She was “extremely careless” in routing sensitive information through a private server, he said. Clinton’s email traffic did, too, include some classified material, despite her carefully parsed denials. But in the end, no “reasonable prosecutor” would bring criminal charges.
Comey’s tongue-lashing provided ammunition for Republican attack ads, to be sure. But imagine the alternative scenario in which his decision went the other way. Clinton’s presidential hopes just dodged a mighty big bullet.
Republicans reacted with outrage, as could have been expected. They couldn’t accuse Comey of being some sort of Democratic hack – he served as deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration – so they resorted to bleats and tweets of general outrage.
“The system is rigged,” presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump complained on Twitter. “Secretary Clinton misled the American people when she was confronted with her criminal actions,” House Speaker Paul Ryan hyperventilated. But the rigging was apparently done by a Republican appointee, who made clear that Clinton’s actions were not criminal. Her transgressions might arguably merit administrative sanctions, he said, but not criminal prosecution.
The GOP will surely play the issue for all it’s worth, but I’m not sure it’s worth all that much. Outrage may spur some on-the-fence Republicans to vote for Trump, but most of them were probably headed there anyway. And my guess is that the decision to consider the e-mail matter closed is more likely to help Clinton with independent voters than hurt her.
As for the Democratic faithful? Enter President Obama. Appearing with Clinton at a rally in Charlotte, Obama gave such a stemwinder that, well, it almost felt like 2008 again. He obviously relished the chance to go after Trump, ridiculing his lack of coherent policies and his logorrheaic use of social media, and he made a better case for Clinton than she makes for herself.
Obama may not convince many Republicans, but he’ll get some independents. Most important, he has a unique and proven ability to inspire Democrats to turn out at the polls. And if Democrats vote in 2008 or 2012 numbers, it’s hard for any Republican to win.
Clinton wore a great big smile at the Charlotte rally. She had reason to.