Analysis

On Emails, Clinton's Stuck in a Moment That She Can't Get Out Of

Voter apathy is erasing Clinton's lead in Florida, but she probably doesn't need the state to win the U.S. presidency.

U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets voters at an early voting brunch in Miami, Florida, U.S., October 30, 2016.
Brian Snyder, Reuters

Arriving in Miami late Saturday night, I saw young people outside my hotel holding small American flags. They had just returned from a "Get Out the Vote" concert starring Jennifer Lopez, salsa legend Marc Anthony and others, in which Hillary Clinton also spoke. So, are you going to vote for her? I asked a young couple. They looked at each other, burst out laughing and said, in Spanish-accented English: “We don’t know. But Anthony is the greatest.”

Their indifference is one explanation why Clinton may be losing the slim lead she’d held in Florida. Sunday’s NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll of the state, which gave Clinton a statistically insignificant one-point lead, details the discouraging demographics. Voters aged 18-29, who generally prefer Clinton to Trump, comprise 20 percent of Florida’s adult population, which is eligible to vote, but only 14 percent of likely voters. Latinos, similarly, are 21 percent of adults in Florida, but only 16 percent of likely voters.

Jennifer Lopez concert in Miami for Clinton supporters.

Whites, on the other hand, who lean to Trump, are 60 percent of Florida’s adults, but 67 percent of its likely voters; adults over 65, who also prefer Trump, are 30 percent of eligible adults, but 36 percent of likely voters. These numbers aren’t extraordinary in and of themselves, but if they remain steady, or even increase in Trump’s favor, Clinton may be in trouble.

On the other hand, it if turns out that her supporters came out in greater numbers than expected, Clinton might think of sending flowers to FBI Director James Comey. His letter to Congressional Committee chairman on Friday about newly discovered emails that could be “pertinent” to the FBI investigation of Clinton’s private email server has definitely electrified the presidential elections, but may have also galvanized Clinton’s hitherto complacent base. The anger at what seems to many Democrats to be Comey’s unwarranted and inexcusable intervention in the political process, coupled with Clinton’s steadily evaporating lead over Trump, might energize activists, volunteers and voters just enough to give the Democratic candidate the extra oomph she needs in order to win.

Of course, in Clinton’s case, the focus on Florida may be overstated anyway. Contrary to Trump, for whom Florida is a must, Clinton can lose the Sunshine State and still be elected president. Of the battleground states, Pennsylvania, which still seems out of Trump’s reach, and North Carolina, which still seems to be leaning to Clinton, could render Florida meaningless and push Clinton past the post. It won’t be the overwhelming knockout she could dream of only a few short days ago, but it will still get her into the White House nonetheless. All of this on the yet-to-be-proven assumption that Comey’s bombshell doesn’t turn out to be a game changer that moved undecided voters and wavering Gary Johnson supporters solidly into Trump’s corner.

Clinton and her spokespersons continued to attack Comey on Sunday. They maintain that there is an incomprehensible disparity between the essence of the new information that the FBI may or may not have uncovered on suspected sex-offender Anthony Weiner’s computer to the deep impact that Comey’s letter could have on the identity of the next leader of the free world. They are convinced that if Comey will be compelled to publicly spell out the new findings that underpinned his controversial letter, the public will see that he was making a mountain out of a molehill, a federal case out of emails that he ostensibly hasn’t even seen for lack of a court order.

Clinton and Jennifer Lopez during a 'Get Out The Vote' concert, October 29, 2016 in Miami, Florida.
Justin Sullivan, AFP

Trump and the GOP, on the other hand, are depicting Comey’s letter as evidence that Clinton is guilty of the crime of the century, at least. Comey, who was a corrupt conniver kowtowing to Clinton until Friday, is now the greatest law enforcement agent since Elliott Ness the Untouchable. Of course, if Comey admits he has no idea what’s in the new emails, allegedly sent by Weiner’s spouse and Clinton aide Huma Abedin to his computer, he will magically revert once again to being a crooked cop covering up for his criminal benefactors.

The Republicans are now accusing Abedin of lying to investigators when she told them that she had handed over all her known emails. Some reports, however, maintain that the newly discovered emails on Weiner’s computers were sent by Abedin for printing, because she was frustrated by difficulties in making hard copies of cables for Clinton to read on complicated State Department printers. So it might turn out that historians will one day try to explain that a faulty printer decided who would serve as president of the U.S., way before the machines actually took over.

Clinton, to her horror, is stuck in a moment she can’t get out of, as U-2’s Bono sang, albeit in a different context. She probably feels like someone gripped by so-called “sleep paralysis” in which one is gripped by frightening hallucinations when waking up or falling asleep but feels paralyzed to extricate herself from the nightmare. The phenomenon is also called “the old hag,” based on ancient folklore and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, though when Republicans talk about “the old hag” they are usually referring to Clinton herself.

Nine days before the elections, just in time for Halloween, Clinton finds herself battling the old email demons that Comey has once again set free instead of focusing on her obvious advantages over her GOP rival, including the fact that she is an experienced and cool-headed politician rather than an impulsive tycoon and compulsive sexual predator. Clinton and her aides don’t know how to stop the media tsunami that is overwhelming them since Friday and to get them to refocus on Trump’s deficiencies instead. They are besieged by right-wing media, that is intentionally trying to use Comey’s letter to bury Clinton, and the so-called mainstream media, which is being no less harsh out of a drive for ratings, a fear they will be accused of partiality and an inability to rise above the social-media feeding frenzy that now passes for news reporting.

Singer Jennifer Lopez performs during a Get Out The Vote concert for Hillary Clinton in Miami, Florida, U.S., October 29, 2016.
Justin Sullivan, AFP

Clinton and her aides may also be making a cardinal mistake by maintaining their assault on Comey’s integrity. Even if their initial need to counteract the Republican spin of his letter was unavoidable at first, the Democrats may now be making the same kind of newcomer error that has plagued Trump throughout the election campaign: prolonging the life span of a negative story by repeatedly reacting to it. They are thus supplying fresh headlines on a story that’s bad for Clinton instead of making the media search for new material that might reflect negatively on Trump.

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Clinton’s fate may now hang on two elements. The first is that her campaign is indeed holding on to a November Surprise that will completely change the narrative and bury Trump. The other is that American voters will put Comey’s controversial non-revelations in proportion and still prefer the levelheaded Clinton, warts and all, to the hotheaded and inexperienced Trump.