Was your world rocked by the State Department IG’s report on Hillary Clinton’s email? I didn’t think so. But interpretations varied, and not innocently, as I observed at New York yesterday:
For Republicans and other Hillary haters, it was a huge, shocking blow to the already-reeling presumptive Democratic nominee, portending a long slide toward ignominious defeat in November. Indeed, Donald Trump thought it was such a big deal that he started speculating that Democrats would soon dump her for Joe Biden. For most left-leaning observers who aren’t Hillary haters, it was, in Josh Marshall’s eloquent assessment, a “nothingburger.”
But then there are the reactions of supposedly objective major media organizations. The New York Times‘ Amy Chozick offered this reaction to the IG report:[A]s the Democratic primary contest comes to a close, any hopes Mrs. Clinton had of running a high-minded, policy-focused campaign have collided with a more visceral problem.
Voters just don’t trust her.
The Clinton campaign had hoped to use the coming weeks to do everything they could to shed that image and convince voters that Mrs. Clinton can be trusted. Instead, they must contend with a damaging new report by the State Department’s inspector general that Mrs. Clinton had not sought or received approval to use a private email server while she was secretary of state.
Now, as it happens, there is at best limited evidence that voters don’t care about Hillary Clinton’s policy positions because they are transfixed by her lack of trustworthiness. Voters who don’t like a candidate for whatever reason are usually happy to agree with pollsters and reporters who offer negative information about the candidate as an explanation. So what Chozick is doing is arguing that her perception of perceptions about Clinton make every bit of news about the email story highly germane and more important than all the policy issues in the world.
A somewhat different reaction to the IG report came from the Washington Post, which editorially hurled righteous thunderbolts at Clinton:
The department’s email technology was archaic. Other staffers also used personal email, as did Secretary Colin Powell (2001-2005), without preserving the records. But there is no excuse for the way Ms. Clinton breezed through all the warnings and notifications. While not illegal behavior, it was disturbingly unmindful of the rules. In the middle of the presidential campaign, we urge the FBI to finish its own investigation soon, so all information about this troubling episode will be before the voters.
This is beneath a headline that reads: “Clinton’s inexcusable, willful disregard for the rules.”
Words like “inexcusable” suggest that Clinton has all but disqualified herself from the presidency. But if the FBI disagrees, as most everyone expects, then the Post will have done yeoman’s service for that other major-party presidential nominee, and his effort to brand Clinton as “Crooked Hillary.”
Concerns about Donald Trump rarely if ever descend to the level of digging around in hopes of discovering patterns of “reckless” behavior or “willful disregard for the rules.” That’s because he’s reckless every day, and willfully disregards not only “the rules” but most other previously established standards of civility, honesty, and accountability. Yes, voters don’t entirely trust Clinton. But a bigger concern ought to be that Trump fans credit him for “telling it like it is” when the man is constantly repeating malicious gossip, lunatic conspiracy theories, ancient pseudo-scandals, and blatant falsehoods.
Yet we are drifting into a general election where important media sources seem to have decided that Clinton violating State Department email protocols and Trump openly threatening press freedoms, proudly championing war crimes, and cheerfully channeling misogyny and ethnic and racial grievances are of about the same order of magnitude. And that’s not to mention the vast differences between the two candidates on all those public-policy issues that Amy Chozick thinks voters have subordinated to questions of “trust.”
This is the kind of environment in which it becomes easy for a candidate like Trump to achieve “normalization” even as he continues to do and say abnormal things.