I was at work when the latest 2016 debacle broke; one guy with me in the back was watching a Trump town hall on his computer, when we heard our coworker next door screech: “grab her by the p*ssy?!?!”
Not something you hear every day in the office. Not something you hear every day on the street. Not something you hear every day on television or quoted in headlines – not something you’d ever think to hear under the purview of a presidential election. Of course, how many times have we expressed that disbelief this year?
The comments were disturbing, everyone is flipping out, there’s a debate Sunday night, and it feels like we’re at another crossroads but then again, we probably aren’t. Trump has steamrolled over these horrific scandals every single time and he’s still uncomfortably OK in the polls. But the shock factor that’s blanketing the weekend news coverage is burying another salient 2016 reveal: alleged excerpts of Hillary Clinton’s paid Wall Street speeches.
Four months ago, this would’ve been a Clinton camp nightmare. Eight months ago, and we could’ve even found ourselves in a very different general election. A month out from the Big Day and Bernie Sanders more or less shackled to the Democratic Party, Clinton campaign manager John Podesta and running-mate Tim Kaine are hardly admitting wrong-doing. There are still questions to the validity of the leak and the context of the excerpts, so the team is staying vague, pivotingpivotingpivoting to ride out the last eddies of the wave that is P*ssygate (Haha? Gross? Blegh.)
What Wikileaks doesn’t have (yet, I suppose) are the full speeches. What they did get – in the form of emails – were around a dozen excerpts, which according to Clinton research director Tony Carrk could use “an extra scrub with Policy.” In effect, the snippets are exactly what I think many of us expected: vague declarations about relating to 1% investment bankers, altogether harmless but linguistically suspect. And it’s obvious the campaign has been hyperaware of the delicate nuance for awhile. Apparently tasked with mining the speeches for controversy, Carrk attached to each excerpt a worst-case scenario headline (including “Clinton Admits She’s Out of Touch” and “Clinton’s Talks About Holding Wall Street Accountable Only for Political Reasons”), giving us a peek into how frustrating and harmful email scandal #982347 could have been.
Because as Kevin Drum at Mother Jones points out, there’s virtually nothing scandalous in the excerpts. Even upon second glance, we’re all robbed of the “ah hah!” moment where Clinton’s been bullshitting us about her promises for Wall Street reform. So maybe the issue is that the speeches highlight qualities Sanders supporters particularly despise in her: as Drum puts it, a “moderate, pragmatic, willing to work across the aisle” approach to the game. Her comments on open trade certainly highlight that attitude, as does the suggestion that bankers can play a valuable role in financial reform. A close read reveals nothing salivating – but doesn’t “public and private position” make a great soundbite?
Once again, what we have is Clinton’s deference to nuance crippling her sprint to the presidency. With a month til Election Day, I’m sure this isn’t the last of the Wikileaks fourth-quarter strategy. And while Sanders is standing by the platform, this line of attack is still up for grabs.
If Trump is able to sidestep his own offenses for a moment on Sunday and hammer Clinton on these speeches – and if she doesn’t have a satisfactory rebuttal – he could stumble upon a more damaging line of attack than Bill’s affairs. Even from him, a tight, unrelenting offensive on her trustworthiness could stoke profound anger in former Sanders’ supporters, betrayed after so begrudgingly rallying behind her over the summer. If it goes poorly enough, will Jill Stein and Gary Johnson jump in on the assault? Will the Bernie Bros reconsider turning out 30 days? Probably not. Hopefully not.