Today's Senate testimony by FBI director James Comey has occasioned another round of relitigation of Hillary Clinton's loss in the 2016 presidential race. Comey's last-minute letter to a House committee, stating that the FBI was examining a new collection of Clinton emails found on Anthony Weiner's computer, might well have persuaded a handful of voters right near the end — or at least reminded them of Clinton's longstanding email problems.
But it's really not enough to blame Comey, even beginning with the assumption that Comey's letter was the deciding factor. We have to go further back in order to assign proper blame. Two questions: First, why was Comey in a position to have such an effect? Second, why was that race ever close enough in the first place that it mattered?
When you put it that way, much more of the blame falls on two of the Democratic figures from last year's election: Hillary Clinton, for creating her own problem, and Bernie Sanders, for failing to use it to strangle her campaign at its inception.
Why Clinton? If she had not gone way out of her way (far, far out of her way) to violate FOIA State Department rules with her email arrangement, then there is no Comey involvement of any kind in anything related to her campaign. She's not the victim here — she created her own problem when she decided she was above federal rules on both transparency and secrecy. If she had nothing to hide, it only makes her politically suicidal decision seem dumber.
The race between Donald Trump (Donald Trump! Donald Trump!) and any warm body should not have even been close in the first place. But Democrats chose a candidate who had too many serious issues for enough of the voters to accept.
Which brings us to Bernie Sanders. Clinton's supporters, desperately looking for any excuse, might argue that Sanders was stingy in his support of Clinton, but I don't believe that at all. He didn't weaken her — he propped her up, and that's the problem. When he had a chance to use this very issue to stamp out her candidacy, he failed to press his advantage.
Primaries are good for parties because they weed out weak candidates with skeletons in their closets. The Democratic primary failed to do this because Sanders disarmed himself unilaterally on the very issue that we're assuming became Clinton's undoing.
During the first Democratic primary debate, Sanders was asked about Clinton's emails, the very issue that turned out to be so damning for her in the end. His now-famous response, "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails," could have easily been followed up with: "...but your emails are all they're going to hear about until November if you become the nominee. So if Democrats want a real discussion of issues and ideas this fall, make me your nominee instead."
Sanders simply refused to go there. Perhaps it was gentlemanly of him, but it was losing. And it guaranteed a political market failure in the Democratic primary process, allowing an inferior candidate to advance over the field, buoyed by universal wishful thinking by Democrats about the potential consequences of the email issue.