Is this a clarification, or a reversal? Mic’s Emily Singer calls it the former, but more than one person took it to be the latter after hearing Hillary Clinton’s NPR interview with Terry Gross on Monday. The runner-up in the 2016 election now says “no one” is suggesting that she contest the election in an attempt to get it overturned:
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she’s not going to contest the results of the election, clarifying a comment she made Monday on NPR in which she said wouldn’t rule out questioning the legitimacy of the outcome of the 2016 presidential campaign.
“I think no one, including me, is saying we will contest the election,” Clinton said Tuesday during a roundtable interview with Mic in its New York office. “I’m in the very large group of people who believe that, you know, there’s no legal basis, no constitutional basis for that.” …
Her comments came a day after she was asked by NPR’s Terry Gross whether she would “completely rule out questioning the legitimacy of this election if we learn that the Russian interference in the election is even deeper than we know now?”
The specific language in the question was “questioning the legitimacy,” but even Gross appears to have assumed that meant something more significant than just complaining about the results. His next follow-up question went right to a legal challenge, about which Hillary sounded skeptical but hardly rejected outright:
What would be the means to challenge it, if you thought it should be challenged?
Basically I don’t believe there are. There are scholars, academics, who have arguments that it would be, but I don’t think they’re on strong ground. But people are making those arguments. I just don’t think we have a mechanism. You know, the Kenya election was just overturned and really what’s interesting about that — and I hope somebody writes about it, Terry — the Kenyan election was also a project of Cambridge Analytica, the data company owned by the Mercer family that was instrumental in the Brexit vote. …
And so we know that there was this connection. So what happened in Kenya, which I’m only beginning to delve into, is that the Supreme Court there said there are so many really unanswered and problematic questions, we’re going to throw the election out and redo it. We have no such provision in our country. And usually we don’t need it.
But do we have such a mechanism? Not explicitly, but there are ways to get the judiciary involved in elections; just ask both sides of Bush v Gore. Using the Supreme Court for that purpose would theoretically only require a lawsuit in federal court alleging a violation of Hillary’s due process or civil rights. It would almost certainly fail, but that hasn’t stopped people from challenging election results in court before, and it won’t stop them in the future either.
Chris Cillizza took Hillary’s comments seriously enough in his newsletter, The Point, on Monday:
This a big deal. The 2016 Democratic nominee, who won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, is expressly leaving open the possibility that she would pursue legal action to invalidate the last presidential election.
I’ve paid close attention to what Clinton’s been saying since she lost the election and I have never heard her broach the possibility of a formal challenge of the results.
Knowing what we know of Clinton, it seems unlikely to me that she simply spoke off the cuff here, that this was just an unconsidered remark. She doesn’t really do that sort of thing.
And, context matters too. Clinton floated the idea of formally contesting the election after she said this about how she envisions her role in the party going forward: “I expect to be really active, and my voice, I’m going to keep out there. I’m not going to just go slowly and quietly into that good night.”
Given all of that, it’s logical to conclude Clinton knew what she was doing here.
Well, I wouldn’t go that far. She clearly wanted to ramp up some interest in her book by hinting at a legal challenge down the road, no matter how realistic it might be. Saying controversial things on a book tour is how one drives the news cycle and, presumably, book sales. Talk is cheap, although Cillizza’s correct in what Hillary said, and what it meant if she said it seriously. Her remarks with Mic are a walkback, not a clarification.
So why walk them back? Because her threat has other implications for Democrats other than Hillary Clinton. If she really knew what she was doing, Hillary wouldn’t have handed Donald Trump a gift on Monday, as I wrote in my column today for The Week:
Remember, too, that Clinton herself demanded that Trump accept the outcome of the election in a presidential debate last October. When Trump said he’d wait and see how the election was conducted, Clinton called the remark “a direct threat to our democracy.” In further remarks, Clinton added, “He’s denigrating — he’s talking down our democracy. I for one am appalled that somebody who is the nominee of one of our major two parties would take that kind of position.”
My, how one’s position changes when the ox that gets gored is one’s own.
Clinton’s implied threat is nonsensical, unconstitutional, and delusional. And it’s hugely counterproductive, too. It allows Trump to remind his voters that he’s still the outsider targeted by the establishment, the man whose mere presence so frightens the swamp that they’ll do anything to get rid of him. Clinton’s comments, and her broader blame-casting publicity tour, only serve to remind conservatives of why they opposed Clinton so strongly last year, which will inevitably lead to at least some renewed coalescing around Trump.
In short, Clinton is giving a gift to Trump at a time when Democrats believed they either had him on the ropes or had at least softened him up to get their priorities through Congress. And it gives Democrats yet another reason to ask why Hillary Clinton won’t get off the stage so they can pick up from the debacle of 2016 and find ways to connect to the voters she managed to lose.
If the roles were reversed, the media would begin asking every Republican officeholder whether they supported the failed candidate’s suggestion of overturning an election. Let’s see if the same standard applies, or the usual double standard. I know which way I’m betting.