Mrs. Clinton said a second letter from Mr. Comey, clearing her once again, which came two days before Election Day, had been even more damaging. In that letter, Mr. Comey said an examination of a new trove of emails, which had been found on the computer of Anthony D. Weiner, the estranged husband of one of her top aides, had not caused him to change his earlier conclusion that Mrs. Clinton should face no charges over her handling of classified information.
Her campaign said the seemingly positive outcome had only hurt it with voters who did not trust Mrs. Clinton and were receptive to Mr. Trump’s claims of a “rigged system.” In particular, white suburban women who had been on the fence were reminded of the email imbroglio and broke decidedly in Mr. Trump’s favor, aides said…
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign was so confident in her victory that her aides popped open Champagne on the campaign plane early Tuesday. But that conviction, aides would later learn, was based largely on erroneous data showing that young, black and Latino voters and suburban women who had been turned off by Mr. Trump’s comments but viewed Mrs. Clinton unfavorably would turn out for her in higher numbers than they ultimately did.
That’s from an NYT story about Hillary blaming her loss on Comey’s one-two punch, first the letter on October 28th announcing that the email case had been reopened and then the November 6th follow-up — which seemed to be good news at the time but might not have been, per the above — declaring that it was closed again, at least as it pertains to Hillary. Is that plausible, that nine days of uncertainty about Clinton’s fate might have turned a 300+ electoral-vote win into a 300+ electoral-vote loss? Well … the Rust Belt states that clinched it for Trump, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, were decided by a grand total of 107,000 votes or so. Among those three and Florida, Trump’s largest margin of victory was 1.3 points. The Times itself notes one poll that found those who decided in the final week, who would have been affected most by the Comey news, broke for Trump by five points. With the margins in key states this small and the Comey news so big, you can at least make the case that it was decisive. But that opens up a new can of worms: If Comey had followed the statute as written and recommended charging Hillary for gross negligence in handling classified info back in July, how would that have affected the race? The disclosures of the last few weeks mattered only because he gave her a huge break earlier. If he hadn’t and she had been indicted, she would have left the ticket this summer and been replaced either by Bernie Sanders or, in all likelihood, Joe Biden — and Biden, whose working-class cred is much stronger than hers, might well have won. (He’s a Pennsylvania native, don’t forget.) If you’re a Democrat who wants to blame Comey for the loss, that’s where the smart causation argument lies. The FBI could have saved you from a fatally flawed candidate merely by following the law on the books. They didn’t, and you cheered. Enjoy President Trump.
Incidentally, although Trumpers have every right to enjoy the comeuppance of the champagne-drinkers on Hillary’s plane, let’s not revise history by pretending like Team Trump knew they had it in the bag all along. If you believe CNN, Trump thought his candidacy would fizzle by October 2015:
“Trump told Christie in 2015 that he didn’t expect to make it past October—at which point he would endorse Christie, according to a Christie adviser who asked not to be named in order to speak about behind-the-scenes maneuvers,” according to the book, written by CNN’s Thomas Lake with reporting from Jodi Enda, Susan Baer and CNN’s political team.
“I think they always had an understanding that the first one out would probably endorse the other,” the adviser said.
Stories like that have been circulating for ages. In March, a former Trump advisor who’d long since left the campaign claimed that from the beginning “the goal was to get The Donald to poll in double digits and come in second in delegate count.” Sam Nunberg, another former advisor, told BuzzFeed earlier this year that “You have to understand, we didn’t think we were going to win. It was such a shot in the dark. Who knew?” The idea, it seems, was to have Trump jump into the race last summer, capitalize on the slow news cycle to build lots of buzz, then drop out after his numbers faded as Republican voters got serious in the fall and use the presidential hype to negotiate a better deal for “The Apprentice.” Less than three weeks ago, Trump’s data guys were telling the media that their models of the election looked a lot like Nate Silver’s, which had Clinton a strong favorite to win. On the Friday before the vote, the RNC data team reportedly found him maxing out at 240 electoral votes. Trump’s advisors admitted to the NYT a few days ago that he was “shocked” when he won. This is what’s so funny about Trumpers taunting all of us dummies who believed the polls: Evidently Team Trump believed them too. Their candidate is the proverbial dog who caught the car. No wonder he didn’t bother, allegedly, to pay close attention to what the president actually does. He didn’t think he’d have the job.
Here’s a little video candy to further satisfy the anti-Clinton schadenfreude. One other point about the polling, since I’ve heard it a lot this past week: It’s true, no doubt, that “groupthink” among data nerds and commentators led them to underestimate Trump’s chances of winning. Silver was attacked endlessly from the left over the final two weeks of the campaign because he insisted on giving Trump a 30-35 percent chance of winning whereas other election modelers gave him a one percent(!) chance. They didn’t want to believe he could win so they refused to believe it, even though the final RCP map last Monday night was tight as can be — 272/266 for Hillary. Groupthink was a problem. But that argument, that pundits were simply “wishcasting” because they couldn’t stomach the thought of a Trump victory, would be more convincing if the candidates had been evenly matched financially and organizationally. They weren’t. Hillary had far more money to spend, far more people on the ground, and far, far, far better big-name surrogates in Barack and Michelle Obama. She had Obama’s email list and a “big data” team that had helped win two national elections comfortably for the left. She had every advantage except enthusiasm. Even if the polls were off and Clinton’s supposed three-point lead was actually a dead heat nationally, it was reasonable to assume that her considerable edge on fundamentals would nudge her past Trump to victory. That’s not groupthink or wishcasting about an outcome, it’s an educated guess. Not educated enough, as it turns out.