Opinion writer

Hillary Clinton is taking all kinds of grief for saying she takes responsibility for the lost campaign but:

I was on the way to winning until a combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28th and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off.

Critics on Twitter and elsewhere fussed that you cannot really be taking responsibility for the loss if you are saying you would have won but for FBI Director James B. Comey’s interference in the election.

The critics miss the obvious point: Clinton can take responsibility for losing while still attributing blame to Comey. “I should have run a much better campaign so that it never would have been close.” If that is what she meant, she is probably right.

When you lose by 78,000 votes — or less than 1,000 in Florida as Al Gore did — everything is a “but for” cause of defeat, as Ron Klain (who was closely involved in multiple tight, losing campaigns) likes to say. So here goes, one more time:

  • But for setting up the home server to begin with;
  • But for dribbling out the whole server story with some misstatements;
  • But for questions about the Clinton Foundation;
  • But for failing to spend enough time courting white working-class voters in the upper Midwest;
  • But for not have a well-enough defined message;
  • But for stagnant wages and slow growth under President Barack Obama;
  • But for demagoguery on trade and immigration;
  • But for media obsession with Donald Trump that helped get him the nomination;
  • But for a substantial reverse gender gap (i.e., men were averse to voting for her);
  • But for Russian bots on social media and the WikiLeaks release of embarrassing emails; and
  • But for 78,000 people in three states sitting home on the couch because they were certain she’d win . . .

Clinton would be president. Most of that she is responsible for; some of it she is not. In any event, she could have been both a very flawed candidate who should have put Trump away and the victim of Russian interference, Comey’s letter, etc.

Moreover, she may be factually correct, although that’s unknowable. Five-Thirty-Eight’s Dan Hopkins put it this way in December:

The timing of James Comey’s letter to Congress — released on Friday, Oct. 28 — makes it one potential explanation. When making sense of campaigns, people often search for overarching narratives, and Comey’s letter provides a ready-made story. No less a political observer than Bill Clinton recently explained his wife’s loss by pointing to Comey’s letter.

Still, we shouldn’t discount the possibility that voters might have gravitated to Trump anyhow.

At any rate, I’m not sure why it matters now — and still. I don’t know what psychic pleasure people get out of her public self-flagellation. (Gore was not required to do so after the 2000 loss.) I understand the ongoing angst over the Trump presidency (and share it!), but it does seem a bit perverse to insist Clinton — who apparently apologized to Obama for the loss — continue to rend her garments in public every single time she shows up.

Come to think of it, the folks who really should be apologizing are the Republicans who rationalized voting for Trump by claiming: character didn’t matter; at least he’d repeal Obamacare and lower their taxes; he’d lose anyway; he was a smart businessman who knew how to make deals; he would grow in office; he’d just sign what Congress put in front of him; and she would only bring another era of corruption to the White House. Now, they have something to apologize for — and could very well have convinced 78,000 not to vote for Clinton.