Rule of thumb for a presidential campaign where the two candidates have the highest unfavorable ratings in the history of polling: If you’re the center of attention, you’re losing.
As Election Day approaches, Hillary Clinton cannot shake the spotlight.
The setback and momentum shift came courtesy of FBI Director James Comey. He no choice. How could Comey have sat on a trove of 650,000 newly discovered e-mails and kept that knowledge suppressed until after the election?
Comey’s announcement brought flooding back – to memory and to the front pages – every unsavory element of the Clinton character: shiftiness, paranoia, cynicism and disdain for playing by the rules.
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At the same time, Clinton was absorbing a daily dose of WikiLeaks, offering an extremely unappealing tableau of mendacity, deception and the intermingling of public service with private self-enrichment. It was the worst week of her campaign, at the worst time.
And it raises two troubling questions:
▪ Regarding the FBI, do we really want to elect a president who will likely come into office under criminal investigation by law enforcement? Congressional hearings will be immediate and endless. A constitutional crisis at some point is not out of the question.
▪ And regarding WikiLeaks, how do we know it will have released the most damning material by Election Day? A hardened KGB operative like Vladimir Putin might well prefer to hold back whatever is most incriminating until a Clinton presidency. He is surely not above attempted blackmail at an opportune time.
In a normal election, the FBI and WikiLeaks factors might be disqualifying for a presidential candidate. As final evidence of how bad are our choices in 2016, Trump’s liabilities, especially on foreign policy, outweigh hers.
We are entering a period of unprecedented threat to the international order that has prevailed under American leadership since 1945. After eight years of President Obama’s retreat, the three major revisionist powers – Russia, China and Iran – see their chance to achieve regional dominance and diminish, if not expel, American influence.
At a time of such tectonic instability, even the most experienced head of state requires wisdom and delicacy to maintain equilibrium. Trump has neither. His joining of supreme ignorance to supreme arrogance, combined with a pathological sensitivity to any perceived slight, is a standing invitation to calamitous miscalculation.
It took seven decades to build our open, free international order. It could be brought down in a single presidential term. That would be a high price to pay for the catharsis of kicking over a table.
Charles Krauthammer is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.