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"America, You've Been Played"

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Authored by Holman Jenkins, originally posted op-ed at The Wall Street Journal,


Donald Trump probably is not helping his cause much with his conspiracy-mongering about a “rigged” election but Democrats should be thankful for small favors.


Mr. Trump lacks message discipline. Instead of scattershot claims that the race is being manipulated, wild conspiracy theories about ballot box-stuffing, which both parties and Americans of decency and goodwill strongly refute, he might be focusing laser-like on the “rigged” argument that nobody can confidently refute.


That’s the argument that Hillary Clinton is her party’s nominee and on her way to the White House only because the Obama administration decided to waive the law on handling classified material—and the FBI went along—in order to assure that its designated heiress would succeed to the presidency.


Google says the question “is Trump trying to lose?” has skyrocketed in popularity in the last few days. Mr. Trump is perhaps willing to be president but hasn’t been willing to do what was necessary to win. He never seriously tried to expand beyond his core support. He never wanted to spend the money, especially on TV advertising, that would be needed to do so.




If, in a deeper realism, he suspected that something like the Billy Bush tape was always going to stand in his way, he was rational to limit his financial risk—though he did the country no favor by accepting the nomination. In any case, Mr. Trump is now behaving as we knew he would. The appeal of “rigged” is obvious. It’s an argument that can continue to be prosecuted on-air after Election Day. Mr. Trump need not, as losing candidates do, concede defeat and disappear. His son-in-law, we’re told by the Financial Times this week, has already reached out to an investment banker about starting a Trump TV network after the election.


America, you’ve been played.


If today’s Democratic campaign were being fought against a generic Republican without Mr. Trump’s distinct qualities and history, here’s what would dominate the news:


  • Mrs. Clinton was verbally convicted by the FBI chief for mishandling classified information yet somehow not formally charged.
  • Her aides were allowed to cut curious deals with FBI investigators that effectively swept under the rug any possible charges against them for obstruction or evidence tampering.
  • Those same aides have been revealed, through email leaks, to have freely mixed public and private interests, including their own and Clinton private interests, in the performance of jobs that, in some cases, saw them receiving salaries from the Clinton Foundation or the Clinton family even as they also worked for the taxpayer at the State Department.
  • The State Department itself, during Mrs. Clinton’s time as secretary, operated as an extension of the Clinton Foundation when it came to handling the requests and advancing the interests of important Clinton Foundation donors, some of which were foreign governments.
  • The latest email leak, likely at the hands of Russian hackers, shows the State Department negotiating with the FBI over the classification status of Mrs. Clinton’s private emails in search of reducing her legal jeopardy.


Here’s what we can expect after Election Day: Democrats will claim that a sweeping victory over Mr. Trump is a mandate for policies that were hardly talked about during a campaign focused on the shortcomings of Mr. Trump’s treatment of women. If Democrats don’t win the House, Mrs. Clinton will adopt President Obama’s strategy of aggressively using executive orders to expand Washington’s dominance of the private sector while painting Republicans as obstructionists.


Those who reason that Mrs. Clinton and House Speaker Paul Ryan have histories and temperaments suited to cooperation and see hope for bipartisan progress will be disappointed. Why? Because of the steady drip of email leaks. Because of new information challenging the quality and objectivity of the FBI investigation.


Mrs. Clinton, like Nixon in 1972, may not get a honeymoon no matter how big her win. The debate we aren’t having in the campaign, we will continue not to have: how to foster a modern state that doesn’t metastasize corruption, cronyism, elites helping themselves. There will be no bipartisan action on things that ail the American economy and hold back its growth. All of Washington will be enmeshed in a replay of the Watergate era, inward-looking, destructive, consumed with investigations and score-settling.




Of course, much will depend on how the vote for control of Congress goes, and whether Mrs. Clinton has an unsuspected gift for creative political leadership that somehow can give the GOP a stake in her success—as Mr. Obama so signally failed to do. Pleasant surprises are always possible. Don’t bet on one.





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