Hillary Clinton is still a strong presidential candidate and could even be headed for the White House. So why does it feel to some Democrats as if they are enduring the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — all at the same time?
This should have been a period of unalloyed excitement about a uniquely qualified frontrunner with the potential to make history as the first woman commander in chief. But that's hardly the universal mood as Clinton campaigns amid the completely predictable fallout from her decision to use a private email account as secretary of state.
Think about the conversation that must have happened when she joined the State Department. She tells her advisers and staff: I'm not going to open an official secretary of state email account. I'd prefer a personal account on my own private server with my own security so I can, you know, carry one device and have my emails on yoga and affairs of state and Chelsea's wedding all together.
There are two ways things could have gone from there.
1. Advisers and staff: Great idea, let's do it, we'll help.
2. Advisers and staff: Terrible idea, don't do it. You're going to be dealing with sensitive, even classified information on a regular basis and some of it is bound to get onto your non-government server, even if you're not the one who sent the initial email. There are security risks. There is also the potential for political risks right when you would be launching your presidential campaign. If there's a breach on your government account, you're not responsible. A breach on this account or even inadvertent mishandling of this information, and it's all on you. Clinton: I'm going to do it anyway.
The pall is even more regrettable because Clinton is in some concrete ways an excellent candidate this time around. She really does know how to relate to voters on the campaign trail. And she is releasing a stream of speeches and policy ideas that most Democrats would consider wonderful.
A weekend tweet from her account was a good example: "If you can refinance your mortgage or your car loan, you should be able to refinance your student loan." Yes. That is an important issue and that is a great way to frame it.
The same could be said of many of Clinton's initiatives and speeches. Her 10-year, $350 billion "new college compact" aims to make college affordable and, with child care and other help for students who are parents, more feasible as well. She says body cameras should be "the norm" for police departments everywhere and has called for universal, automatic voter registration.
Clinton says she will fight for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, and has set ambitious goals on renewable energy. She has pledged to fight for child care, "fair pay and fair scheduling, paid family leave and earned sick days" to help working parents. And on and on.
All of this is so rational and welcome, from a Democratic standpoint, that you want to be able to embrace it — and her. But she makes that incredibly difficult.
However it happened, however inconceivable such a move might strike people who really do play by the rules, however impossible it seems that the Obama administration either didn't notice Clinton's missing state.gov address or didn't question the way she did business, what is there for Democrats to do now but grit their teeth and hope for the best? It's not like there's another celebrity politician who could leap into the breach at this stage. Go ahead, I dare you to scour the decimated ranks of Democratic governors and senators — even mayors — and find somebody. Joe Biden is mulling, but he's a long shot to run and at this point, an even longer shot to dislodge Clinton.
And so a classic Clinton Beltway drama unfolds in inevitable fashion: stalling, surprises, investigations, retreat to the bunker, charges of partisan mud-slinging, a drip-drip of damaging information, and the nerve-wracking prospect of Clinton testifying on Oct. 22 before a GOP panel investigating the 2012 killings of four Americans at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the former federal prosecutor who heads that committee, calls Clinton's email arrangement unusual, unique, unprecedented, and worse. "It was one of the most reckless decisions that have been made in public service in a long time," he said on Fox News Sunday. "And the notion that she did this for convenience … convenience for whom? 'Cause it sure hasn't been convenient for the American people or for our intelligence apparatus. It may have been convenient for her, but it hasn't been convenient for anyone else." The decision, he said, has delayed his panel's work to compile a complete public record and "it remains to be seen whether or not she's placed national security information at risk."
Would anyone like to argue with Gowdy? I doubt he and I would agree on much, but on this, alas, there is no daylight between us.