Comments on Recent Events in Political Campaigns

November 04, 2016

By John Holcomb, Professor in the Department of Business Ethics and Legal Studies

  • Doug Schoen, long-time Clinton pollster and adviser, withdrew his support for Hillary Clinton last weekend.  He did so because he thinks all the investigations will create a constitutional crisis and paralyze her administration, if elected.  John Holcomb
  • Not so, Judge Andrew Napolitano said, since all criminal prosecutions against a president are stayed until that person leaves office (Bill Clinton was only civilly charged in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, prosecuted while he was still in office).  
  • That does not refute Schoen’s argument about Congressional investigations, however. Even without a criminal indictment, Congress can make life extremely difficult for a President Clinton, as it did for Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, which led to resignation in the former case and impeachment in the latter.  According to an article in Politico of November 2, House Republicans will be investigating Clinton from day one, if she is elected, and those investigations will last for months or years.
  • If Hillary is indicted this time, after the election but before Obama leaves office, the question will be whether he will pardon her, whether she is elected president or not.  If the investigation, or the ongoing investigation of the Clinton Foundation, ends after she assumes office, then will she be able to pardon herself?   Some dicey questions now remain for voters to ponder.  
  • All the early voting states, including Colorado, and over 20 million votes cast thus far may have created a problem for those who might want to change their votes in light of new developments. Changing initial votes is allowed in only a few states and usually restricted to absentee ballots.
  • Regarding FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congressional Committees last Friday, it is not strange that he is now a villain to Democrats, after they praised him back in July, and that some Republicans are now embracing him after earlier vilifying him.  
  • Several op-eds from former Clinton or Obama DOJ officials, in what seems to be an orchestrated campaign, condemn Comey for operating against DOJ policy and protocol, that the Attorney General should not comment on an ongoing investigation or say anything that might affect an election.
  • An op-ed in the New York Times by a former White House ethics lawyer charges Comey with violating the Hatch Act, which Harry Reid has also said, a charge I find preposterous (the article is attached).  
  • It is also not entirely surprising that the Department of Justice and FBI are not on the same page, given the appointment process. Comey is in the third year of a 10-year term, seemingly insulated from political pressure while still reporting to the Attorney General.  Meanwhile, all cabinet officers are creatures of the Administration and serve at its pleasure, so one would expect them to toe the line.  After all, Jack Kennedy appointed brother Bobby as AG for good political reasons.  Given how the email investigation has evolved, and based on prior Congressional testimony, Comey may have good reason to believe he is also accountable to Congress in this situation.
  • To further demonstrate the differences between the more political Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI, the DOJ has said it has no ongoing investigation of the Clinton Foundation, while four field offices of the FBI are conducting such an investigation.
  • A focus group of 24 uncommitted voters conducted by pollster Peter Hart found that all 24 opposed both Clinton and Trump as suitable presidents. However, after a discussion, most of them grudgingly lined up with one of the two candidates.
  • Following the effective re-opening of the FBI investigation of Clinton-related emails, polls show the race in battleground states has tightened.
  • While not moving the polls dramatically in Trump’s favor, the FBI investigation of Clinton has had two other positive effects for Trump. First, it has changed the topic of conversation from Trump to Clinton.  Anytime the conversation is about Trump, that is bad for Trump, and anytime the conversation is about Clinton, that is bad for Clinton.
  • Secondly, the FBI statement has leveraged more money for Trump in the final week of the campaign, including $25 million more from casino owner Sheldon Adelson, which will likely spur contributions from others.
  • Recent disclosures about both Trump and Clinton have made the election even more one about character. The policy positions of each candidate have been so murky and flexible, changing over time, that voters cannot trust what either says on issues.  Hence, character becomes even more important than in a normal election.  With in excess of 60 percent of the public not trusting the honesty of either candidate, an all-time high in elections, it becomes a disappointing election.
  • Still, with the virtual media blackout on third parties and no participation in the debates, even the earlier higher support of the Libertarian Party ticket, at 12 percent, has now dwindled and reverted to the normal level of about 5 percent. That five percent average may still be enough to tip the election to one major party candidate or the other in a few states.  Moreover, the Libertarian Party must hit the 5 percent threshold to qualify for matching funds and retain its ballot position in future elections.
  • The two-party system seems to yield the polarization and gridlock in Washington, DC. It is the very nature of two poles that they oppose each other, while a multi-party system might generate more creative and less contentious coalitions.
  • If voters ever determine that the country is not well served by the two-party system, which facilitates polarization, it is always difficult for third parties to gain recognition and credibility in the media and polling fog that dominates politics in America.