Democrats who think Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is simply a stronger-than-expected sparring partner for Hillary Clinton may be in for a rude awakening. While the Republicans have their hands full navigating toward an alternative to Donald Trump, at least they have people in the race capable of doing so. Clinton, however, may be a dead-woman-walking, leaving the Democratic Party in the untenable position of nominating a socialist whose foreign and domestic policies are antithetical to the great majority of Americans.
Clinton’s problems are threefold.
First and foremost, she has a serious legal problem, one that cannot be wished away by those indifferent to the facts. The FBI does not investigate and devote considerable resources for nothing. It does not lightly send a letter stating it is investigating a former high government official’s use of an unsecured email. And someone (whether in the FBI, the Justice Department or some other corner of the administration) does not without good reason leak a story as damaging as this latest Fox News report:
At least a dozen email accounts handled the “top secret” intelligence that was found on Hillary Clinton’s server and recently deemed too damaging for national security to release, a U.S. government official close to the review told Fox News.
The official said the accounts include not only Clinton’s but those of top aides – including Cheryl Mills, Huma Abedin, Jake Sullivan and Philippe Reines – as well as State Department Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy and others.
A second source not authorized to speak on the record said the number of accounts involved could be as high as 30 and reflects how the intelligence was broadly shared, replied to, and copied to individuals using the unsecured server.
This sort of rampant mishandling of classified material cannot be swept under the rug, no matter how much Democrats want to believe this is some political fuss cooked up by Republicans. Whoever is leaking the information seems determined to make sure the FBI and/or the Justice Department cannot evade their obligations to move forward, as they would with any staff person who engaged in this behavior.
In speaking with law professors, former Justice Department lawyers, former Hill staffers who have learned the rules regarding classified material and former national security officials, I have yet to find a single one who believes Clinton’s legal risk is trivial. No, it is serious, and now so public that inaction becomes difficult for the FBI and the Justice Department.
The involvement of so many individuals raises the possibility, as any lawyer would know, that immunity will be granted in exchange for testimony, tightening the noose around Clinton. And that is just one of Clinton’s problems.
Second, if the Democrats — as the Republicans have done with Trump — are waiting around for their voters to recognize how extreme and unelectable Sanders is, they are mistaken. The Democratic Party has fanned the flames of class warfare for so long, Sanders now sounds mainstream to them, and in a sense he is mainstream in a party that has vilified Wall Street, accumulated vast new power over segments of the economy (health care and financial services, for example) and no longer recognizes capitalism as a solution to poverty (despite worldwide evidence of such). Like the GOP, Democrats have indulged in protectionist hysteria in such a convincing fashion that Democrats have come to see trade as a threat and globalization as a negative. The president may not be as extreme as Sanders but his rhetoric has paved the way for Sanders. A president who ran up enormous debt, allowed entitlements to grow unchecked and characterizes most opposition to any government activity as evil or irrational can hardly be surprised when, after seven years, his supporters do not take budget math seriously. With seven years of a president who essentially ignored the multiplication of threats, no wonder Democrats put no weight on foreign policy acumen.
Third, Clinton is exactly the wrong person to stop the Sanders runaway train. In her concession speech in New Hampshire, she declared: “What are we going to do? And that is — that is the fight we’re taking to the country. What is the best way to change people’s lives so we can all grow together? Who is the best change-maker?” Honestly, it wouldn’t be her. She — who won’t release her speeches to investment bankers — cannot plausibly be the best person to take on Wall Street or clean up campaign finance rules. Maybe Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or former senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) could make that case, but not Clinton.
Clinton and her supporters thought gender loyalty would save her. It has not. Now she thinks minority voters will ride to her rescue. But why should they? Sanders is giving away free stuff and telling them the system is rigged. Voters under 40 years old don’t remember the Bill Clinton years; they remember Hillary Clinton as the candidate who tried to take down then-presidential candidate Barack Obama and the person who jetted around the world while Obama was delivering on health care. She has not as yet shown the talent to reconstruct the Obama coalition, despite her faith that identity politics will win the day. (In case you have forgotten, her “identity” is a rich, white woman.)
Clinton may not dig herself out from all of this. Democrats who don’t think so are whistling past the graveyard of the Democratic Party. For months Democrats worried about an alternative to Clinton; now they should be worrying about an alternative to Sanders. Clinton may just not be up to the task.