Mark Shields: The campaign post Comey

Mark Shields

Even though Democrat Hillary Clinton continues to lead Republican Donald Trump in nearly all major public polls, the answer to one question in the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll had to trigger panic attacks throughout the entire Clinton campaign. Respondents were asked whether Trump or Clinton ”would be better” on ”being honest and straightforward.” Trump, a man not widely recognized as an ethical giant, was the choice of 41 percent of voters, whereas a meager 25 percent of voters on the central issue of integrity preferred Clinton.

Thus, even before FBI Director James Comey declared that as secretary of state, Clinton — through her unauthorized use of private homebrew email servers — and her colleagues ”were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” the Democratic nominee-in-waiting was already overdrawn in her underfunded public trust account.

Here are some things we can take away from the ordeal:

• Comey’s verdict was ”not innocent.” Clinton did avoid a campaign-ending indictment, but she received a blistering public exoneration. Comey — whose FBI, with a 3-1 positive rating in the WSJ/NBC survey, is one of the few public entities to inspire confidence — showed restraint, maturity and backbone in publicly defending, especially before the publicity-hungry House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, his decision. Harry Truman famously said, ”If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Comey can stand the heat.

• Every successful presidential candidate needs a respected confidant (whom the candidate will heed) who can tell her or him, ”You’re wrong. You cannot do this.” It is obvious by now that Trump, who can best be understood as an egomaniac with an inferiority complex, neither seeks nor tolerates candid critics in his retinue. Sadly, Clinton has too often listened to the unwise counsel of those who disparage transparency and glasnost in favor of murkiness and insulation. Assuming that someone in the Clinton camp bravely told her in 2009 that her use of private servers was both wrong and unacceptable, we can only conclude that the secretary chose to ignore that clearsighted advice.

• Pierre Trudeau was right in 1972. That was the year the Canadian prime minister, facing a slumping economy, made the case for his own re-election this way: ”Don’t compare me to the Almighty; compare me to the alternative.” Clinton’s problem in 2016 is apparent: Voters do not personally like her or trust her. But even on the very day of her damaging non-indictment, Trump, in a bizarre and (surprise) self-indulgent Cincinnati ”speech,” insisted on saluting Saddam Hussein for having been ”damn good at killing terrorists” and told the crowd of his intense dislike of mosquitoes, adding, ”Speaking of mosquitoes, ‘Hello, Hillary, how are you doing?”’ Missing, to borrow from Richard Nixon, is any lift of a driving dream.

• Republicans have to get out of their bubble. In its most recent national poll, Quinnipiac University asked: ”In the wake of the recent Orlando shooting, Donald Trump has suggested that President Obama may sympathize with terrorist organizations such as ISIS. Do you agree or disagree with this idea?” Pretty straightforward: Is Barack Obama collaborating with deadly terrorists? Happily, independent voters and all Americans — by the identical margin of 65-29 percent — reject the unfounded charge. But 3 in 5 Republican voters with an opinion agree that yup, President Obama is a traitor.

In the post-Comey campaign, the path to electoral redemption for a flawed Hillary Clinton, suffering from self-inflicted wounds, remains in her being compared with the one alternative who daily renders himself more and more unacceptable.

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