So Bernie Sanders is leading in New Hampshire. That cheers me — though not because he's my ideal candidate, and certainly not because I think he could win in the general election. I'm convinced he would almost certainly lose against all but the loopiest or scariest Republican opponent.
Then why am I — someone almost certain to vote for a Democrat, and hoping to vote for a woman, in 2016 — so pleased by Sanders' ascent? Because it helps to puncture the aura of inevitability around Hillary Clinton. Yes, she continues to lead in every national poll by a large margin, which is why few formidable opponents have shown an interest in challenging her for the Democratic nomination. That has always been foolish, given the mountain of baggage she and her husband carry around with them everywhere they go. But now it's become downright irresponsible.
The Democrats desperately need more serious, viable candidates in the race, or at least poised to jump in at a moment's notice. (And it sure would be great if they were more appealing than Al Gore.) The point wouldn't be to catch up to her in a mad dash. The point would be to serve as a strong back-up for when the nearly inevitable happens.
What's the nearly inevitable? The scandal that, sooner or later, is bound to sink Hillary Clinton's campaign.
This isn't paranoia, right-wing spin, or baseless panic. It's a sober assessment of the situation.
At the moment, the ongoing email imbroglio is the time bomb that seems to pose the greatest risk to the campaign. It's hard to know which is most alarming: the way the candidate and her team have handled the scandal since it broke in March; the latest swirl of half-truths, denials, reversals, and revelations; or what new explosive information might come to light a month, six months, or a year from now.
For the past five months, those of us old enough to have lived through the 1990s have been enduring a deeply unpleasant bout of déjà vu-inspired dread. First the news breaks, inspiring the unavoidable thought, "How could [insert member of the Clinton family here] possibly have failed to realize that this would be a problem?" Then the barrage of counter-attacks from the Clinton machine against the story, poking holes, impugning motives, kicking up just enough dust to convince fair-minded observers that maybe, just maybe, there's less to the story than it originally seemed. And finally, because journalists make mistakes and actually care about being able to stand behind the truth of what they publish, even those who ran the original story begin to backtrack, express uncertainties, and air self-doubts.
And then: Ka-Blam! The story is back and bigger than ever. Oh, that server we wouldn't give to you? You can have it now, cleaned up all nice and tidy. There certainly weren't any classified documents on there. Oh, there were? Oops, well, only those two — oh, I mean four — and don't worry about how that's just a "limited sample" of 40 emails out of tens of thousands; the inspector general of the Justice Department just got lucky. And hey, we deleted them, so who cares? (Freedom of information is for suckers.) Yes, of course, my "shadow" had access to that server and those classified emails, too. Why is that a problem? What, are you a member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy?
Tick, tick, boom.
Maybe you think this is just one of those inside-the-Beltway scandals that only engages journalists and pundits and so will leave the candidate unscathed. But what about the multimillion-dollar slush fund run by her husband, with some of the world's richest people and most corrupt governments potentially trading massive monetary donations for access to and influence with a former president and sitting secretary of state? Did it happen? To what extent? Keeping all of those emails off of government servers and then deleting them has made answering those questions much more difficult than it otherwise would have been. But mark my word, an enterprising reporter somewhere is going to find out. Once again, it's just a matter of when.
Tick, tick, boom.
Moving further down the ladder of corruption into pure sleaze, we have, as always, Bill Clinton's insatiable sexual appetite. We haven't heard much about this in the mainstream press since the days of "bimbo eruptions" and Monica Lewinsky. And that's fair, right? Bill is out of office, his days of public service behind him. Why is it anyone's business what the ex-president does in his free time?
The only problem is that his wife is running for president, and if the effort is successful, Bill and his libido will be back in the White House. Should that be a problem? Maybe not — though it sure could be a humiliating embarrassment and distraction for the first female commander-in-chief.
But what concerns me far more is a specific story — one about Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire investor with a taste for sex with underage prostitutes. Lots of them. Perhaps as many as "34 confirmed minors." (Epstein pled guilty to state charges in 2008. He was sentenced to 18 months and released after serving 13.)
Flight logs from Epstein's private jet — nicknamed the "Lolita Express" — show at least 10 trips by Bill Clinton, including several on which he flew (according to Gawker) with "a woman who federal prosecutors believe procured underage girls to sexually service Epstein and his friends and acted as a 'potential co-conspirator' in his crimes."
The only question is when one of these time bombs explode: before the primaries or after the primaries, before the convention or after the convention, before the debates or after the debates, before Election Day or after Election Day.
The Democrats need a viable Plan B now.