When not trying desperately to smear an FBI director they were lauding as a hero last summer, Democrats are today trying to reassure themselves that James Comey isn’t going to elect Donald Trump. They’re probably right about that. Tens of millions of Americans have already cast their ballots, and it’s unlikely that there are enough persuadable swing voters out there to dig Trump out of the hole in which he has dug himself. But what Comey’s letter may do is to help keep Trumpism alive even if Clinton hangs on to win the presidency a week from tomorrow. The further the nation is drawn into the maze of Clinton’s legal troubles, the more likely it is that the anti-establishment fervor that nominated Trump will continue to permeate the country’s political culture.

It may be true that it’s the Democrats who are now implying someone is rigging the election against them, even as Trump has suddenly acquired some new faith in the system he long derided. But whether or not the contents of the newly discovered Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer advance the case against the Democratic nominee, it has reinforced the notion that she is corrupt. If, as is still likely the case, she is elected president, the legal cloud hanging over her will ensure she comes into office crippled and vulnerable to attacks on her legitimacy. That not only means no traditional honeymoon with Congress; it will give new life to a populist insurgent movement just at the moment when Trump’s defeat might have taken a lot of the air out of its balloon.

No matter what comes out of the latest twist in the email saga, the mere act of re-opening the investigation legitimizes the belief that Clinton is guilty of behavior that would have landed a lesser personage in a courtroom making a plea. That’s a cudgel with which Republican members of Congress will gladly bludgeon her from her first day in office. It is also the sort of thing that will animate efforts to keep Trump’s movement alive and to place it within the mainstream of the Republican Party.

The “lock her up” chant at Trump rallies and the candidate’s threats to prosecute her has struck many Americans as more the stuff of banana republics than appropriate remarks for a would be president. But in one stroke, Comey’s letter has made those comments more defensible in the eyes of Republicans and signaled to Trump’s supporters that they are right to consider a Clinton administration inherently illegitimate.

This is important. While there were always elements on the right that viewed President Obama as illegitimate, such sentiments were the product of conspiracy theories. But an ongoing FBI email investigation added on to the cumulative impact of investigations into the Clinton Foundation—and the conflicts of interest with the State Department created by its fundraising efforts—will make the same sort of outrage at a Hillary Clinton presidency something that won’t be confined to the fever swamps of American politics. To the contrary, the investigation into her emails may play the same role in undermining her presidency, but this time those arguments will be hurled at her from Congress and not merely the Internet.

By electing Clinton, many Americans may think they are rendering a final judgment on Trump. But the FBI letter sets up a post-election political equation in which his efforts to continue the transformation of the GOP from a party of government to one focused primarily on burning down Washington will be strengthened.

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