James Comey
Credit: Rich Girard/Flickr

Nate Silver convincingly makes the case that FBI Director James Comey’s letter, which he sent on October 28th, cost Hillary Clinton the election. Silver doesn’t attempt to weigh other factors, most of which are impossible to measure. He just looks at happened to Clinton’s standing in the polls from the moment news of Comey’s letter was first reported until the polls opened on November 8th.

Here’s the most important part of his argument:

The standard way to dismiss the letter’s impact is to say that Clinton should never have let the race get that close to begin with. But the race wasn’t that close before the Comey letter; Clinton had led by about 6 percentage points and was poised to win with a map like this one, including states such as North Carolina and Arizona (but not Ohio or Iowa).8 My guess is that the same pundits who pilloried Clinton’s campaign after the Comey letter would have considered it an impressive showing and spoken highly of her tactics.

Probably the most frustrating part of this analysis is that it doesn’t provide any remedy. Clinton would have won, but Comey intervened and she lost. However nauseous Comey feels about what he did, he says he’d make the same catastrophic decision all over again. He still has his job. There’s nothing to prevent something similar from happening in a future election.

What’s even worse is that focusing on the Comey letter risks absolving other people of blame who deserve blame, including Hillary Clinton. In a lot of ways, a Clinton victory would have carried the same downsides. But those downsides seem a lot more manageable than the world having to figure out how to survive a Trump administration.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com