Rule of thumb for a presidential campaign where the two candidates have the highest unfavorables in polling history: If you’re the center of attention, you’re losing.
As Election Day nears, Hillary Clinton cannot shake the spotlight. She is ahead in the polls, but you know she’s slipping when she goes to a Florida event with a week left accompanied by former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado.
The original plan was for Clinton to pivot in the final week from criticism of Donald Trump to making a positive case for herself.
The setback and momentum shift came courtesy of FBI Director James Comey. Clinton’s greatest hurdle had always been the Comey primary, which Democrats thought she’d won in July when he declined to recommend prosecuting her over classified emails.
But Comey had to reopen the investigation. How could he have sat on 650,000 newly discovered emails and kept that secret until after the election?
Comey’s announcement brought flooding back every unsavory element of the Clinton character: shiftiness, paranoia, cynicism and disdain for playing by the rules. It got worse when FBI employees leaked stories about possible political pressure from the Department of Justice and parallel investigations into the Clinton Foundation.
At the same time, Clinton got a daily dose of WikiLeaks, offering a tableau of mendacity, deception and the intermingling of public service with private self-enrichment. It was the worst week of her campaign, at the worst time.
And it raises two troubling questions:
▪ Regarding the FBI, do we want a president who will likely come into office under criminal investigation? Congressional hearings will be immediate and endless. A constitutional crisis is not out of the question.
▪ And regarding WikiLeaks, how do we know it will release the most damning material by Election Day? A hardened KGB operative like Vladimir Putin might hold back whatever is most incriminating until a Clinton presidency. He is not above attempted blackmail.
There seems to be a consensus that Putin is working only to disrupt the election, not deny Clinton the White House. Why? Putin harbors a deep animus toward Clinton, whom he blames for anti-Putin demonstrations following Russia’s rigged 2011 parliamentary elections.
And Putin would prefer to deal with Trump, who has the softest line on Russia of any modern U.S. leader.
In a normal election, the FBI and WikiLeaks factors might be disqualifying. As final evidence of how bad are our choices, Trump’s liabilities outweigh hers.
We are entering a period of unprecedented threat to the international order that has prevailed under American leadership since 1945. After eight years of President Obama’s retreat, Russia, China and Iran see their chance to achieve regional dominance and diminish, if not expel, American influence.
At a time of such instability, even the most experienced head of state requires wisdom and delicacy. Trump has neither.
Two generations of Americans have grown up feeling international stability is as natural as air. It’s not. It depends on continual, calibrated tending. It depends on delicate balancing of alliances and careful signaling of enemies. It depends on avoiding self-inflicted trade wars and on recognizing the value of allies as cornerstones of our security.
It took seven decades to build this open, free international order. It could be brought down in a single presidential term. That would be a high price to pay for the catharsis of kicking over a table.