As Jonathan Tobin astutely noted, Hillary Clinton’s most valuable “firewall” isn’t the universe of core Democratic voters who appear set to rescue her from a potent challenge to her left, but the Department of Justice. That front, which was once a stable bulwark insulating her from charges related to her conduct as secretary of state, may be starting to give way.
Shortly after the FBI forced Hillary Clinton to hand over her poorly secured “homebrew” server, which contained over a thousand sensitive or classified documents related to American national security and diplomatic affairs, the former secretary of state’s political team began shopping around for a fall guy. They settled on Bryan “the IT guy” Pagliano. A longtime Democratic operative who had helped perform the complex task of setting up the shadow server on which Clinton and her aids conducted affairs of state in violation of White House and State Department guidelines, if not the law, Pagliano was quickly summoned before the House Select Committee investigating the Benghazi attacks. In testimony before that committee, Pagliano repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
Team Clinton feigned frustration with their patsy’s recalcitrance, which a Clinton aide described as “both understandable and disappointing.” But having been cut loose, this was Pagliano’s only choice. “We had hoped Bryan would also agree to answer any questions from the committee and had recently encouraged him to grant the committee’s request for an interview,” an unnamed Clinton confidante told the New York Times. “[He] has every reason to be transparent about his I.T. assistance.” It seems that the Clinton campaign will get their apocryphal wish.
On Wednesday night, the Department of Justice granted Pagliano immunity. He can now reveal to FBI investigators the full extent of his involvement in skirting the legal guidelines for the protection of classified information and who ordered him to flout so brazenly the spirit if not the letter of the law. The FBI is reportedly trying to wrap up its investigation into Clinton before she becomes the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, and it is “very likely” Clinton will personally be questioned by federal investigators about her illicit server.
Hillary Clinton is, no doubt, guilty of serious misconduct, although allegations of criminal behavior remain just that: allegations. Still, the former first lady’s insistence that she allowed classified information to be housed on an unsecured server, which was likely compromised by foreign intelligence services, so that she could preserve the “convenience” to which she was accustomed as a U.S. Senator is shameless in the extreme. Her conduct should disqualify her from serving as the nation’s commander-in-chief. The operative word there is “should.”
Republican primary voters are an odd sort. They have succumbed to a level of cynicism so all-consuming that many are utterly dismissive of their frontrunner’s innumerable heresies, improprieties, and flaws of character. Yet this unhealthy, saturating level of cynicism goes right out the window when it comes to Clinton. Those same disenchanted Republicans appear convinced that Barack Obama’s Justice Department and Attorney General Loretta Lynch will not only put the case against Clinton to a grand jury but that they will pursue and obtain a criminal indictment against her.
This incongruous logic has led many a Republican voter to reject the idea that Hillary Clinton is a strong candidate for the presidency. It is the same myth that led conservative voters to disavow Mitt Romney because he presumably threw a winnable race against an incumbent Democratic president who led the head-to-head polls, often by double digits, for 11 straight months leading up to the conventions. You hear this of reasoning echoed in the pundit class even today. “Why didn’t Republican elites ever fight this hard, throw this many resources, behind defeating the Obama agenda?” asked radio host Laura Ingraham, lamenting the increasingly vigorous conservative revolt against the GOP frontrunner. Baked into this presumption is the conspiratorial notion that the conservative wing of the Republican Party is a pawn in a seditious game of intrigue between colluding GOP elites and Democratic officials. And yet this toxic cynicism is not applied to Clinton, lest it shatter the premise that 2016 is the GOP’s race to lose.
The idea that Republicans have, or at least had, a strong chance to win the White House in November is well founded. The fundamentals are with the GOP: eight years of economic stagnation, the weakening of America’s position abroad, anxiety over increased incidents of Islamist terrorism, and the challenges associated with any party holding the White House for three consecutive terms. But Hillary Clinton is no pushover. Whatever happens in the GOP race, the party will not have an orderly nomination process. Meanwhile, Democrats appear set to have a stately coronation process that will project stability and continuity. General election voters are not primary voters; they are stakeholders. They have children and mortgages and occupations. They don’t want to “burn it all down.”
If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, he will likely fracture the party. Near total partisan unity is a prerequisite for any candidate seeking to win the White House. He will provide the left and the press with vast stores of opposition research to destroy the reputation of the GOP nominee, and the unrelenting air war will likely prevent Trump from winning enough Democratic defections to make up for the conservative voters he will lose. Unlike his rivals, the celebrity candidate has never even once led Hillary Clinton in the RCP average of head-to-head polls. In order to convince themselves that these fundamentals don’t matter, Republicans are indulging a fantasy in which Clinton is hauled off the Democratic convention stage in handcuffs. Nothing is impossible, but that is extremely unlikely. If it amounts to the only hope that the Republican Party has to win the White House with Trump (not to mention hold their congressional majorities), then there is no hope at all.
Hillary Clinton is a perfectly beatable presidential nominee, but that correct assessment has led many Republican voters to presume that she and the united, well-funded, organized party she will lead amount to a collection of paper tigers. This is a dangerous delusion, and the pundits peddling it should know better.