The Democrats have a simple explanation for Hillary Clinton’s loss — the Russians did it.
The party that has had a decadeslong soft spot toward Moscow and been reluctant to believe that the Kremlin might have aggressive intentions or, say, cheat on an arms-control agreement is in a frenzy over Russian hacking that supposedly denied Hillary the victory that was rightfully hers.
John Podesta, the chairman of a Hillary campaign that considered accepting the results of an election part of American writ as of about two months ago, refused several times on “Meet the Press” Sunday to say the presidential election was “free and fair.”
In a contest this narrow, anything might have been decisive. But the monocausal Russian explanation for Hillary’s defeat ignores her myriad political and ethical vulnerabilities that the Democrats were determined to disregard, despite the obvious evidence of them for years.
Vladimir Putin couldn’t have hand-picked a worse champion for them this year. There was no reason to believe that Hillary Clinton was a good politician who could deliver a compelling message, since she had never done it before.
What she lacked in raw political skill, she made up for with dubious practices. She and her husband hadn’t anticipated her second run for the presidency by staying squeaky-clean, but by buckraking from every corporate or foreign interest possible on the promise of a return to power. They were happy to, at the very least, skirt the rules, with Hillary’s homebrew email arrangement — concocted to hide her correspondence from legitimate media and congressional inquiries — exemplifying the MO.
In other words, the Democratic establishment rushed into the arms of a candidate who, it was clear from the beginning, could well lose to Donald Trump, especially if a few things bounced the wrong way — and is now shocked and outraged that she indeed lost when a few things bounced the wrong way.
Yes, the Russian interference was among those things. But some perspective: The hack of the Democratic National Committee disrupted the early going of the Democratic convention, but the convention was still a wild political success that gave Hillary a big bounce. The subsequent WikiLeaks release of John Podesta’s emails constituted a steady drip-drip of discomfiting information, yet most of it didn’t break through in the media. Certainly none of it had the effect of the James Comey letter 11 days before the voting, which dominated the coverage for days and led to an immediate slide in Hillary’s poll numbers.
This is why Democrats tend to lump in James Comey with the Russians when arguing that the election was hacked, even though he’s the director of the FBI, not the FSB. Comey is a public servant who had to grapple with the unprecedented circumstance of a major political party knowingly nominating a presidential candidate under FBI investigation. Who thought this was a good idea?
Democrats just assumed that everything related to the investigation would go Hillary’s way, in an act of sheer wishfulness (and denial about the seriousness of the matter). Hillary escaped indictment, but two of the worst moments of her campaign came courtesy of Comey, whose public explanation of her handling of her emails wounded her in the summer.
It is true that late-deciding voters broke against Hillary, although it’s impossible to disentangle the effect of WikiLeaks, the Comey letter and natural factors, i.e., she was the known quantity running as the quasi-incumbent at a time of great voter discontent, setting her up for a fall at the end.
Democrats are calling for an investigation to get to the bottom of the Russian interference in the election. This is entirely appropriate. But everything points to the Democrats not being able to handle the fundamental truth of what happened on Nov. 8 — they took a flier on a historically weak candidate out of a misbegotten attachment to the Clinton dynasty, and paid a grave price for their foolish mistake.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.