People like Tomasky and Drum, along with Kornacki and Maddow: Last weekend, Kevin Drum wrote a long post about James B. Comey which struck us as oddly illogical.
Did James B. Comey's behavior last year tip the election to Donald J. Trump? That is surely quite possible.
On the other hand, the election tipped to Trump by a narrow margin in three states. In such a situation, many factors can be said to have possibly tipped the election to Trump. Examples:
It may be that Clinton would have won if Comey hadn't behaved as he did. But it's also possible that Clinton would have won, in spite of Comey, had she run a better campaign in some way.
Beyond that, it may be that Clinton would have won in spite of Comey absent the Russian invasion. Especially in a narrow race, any number of different factors may have tipped the campaign.
For some reason, Drum seems determined to fix Comey as the "decisive" cause of November's outcome. Absent further explanation, that doesn't exactly make sense. Neither does Drum's claim that Clinton probably ran an average campaign, not a bad campaign.
In truth, there is no objective way to say who ran a "bad" campaign. Drum chose several subjective measures, then used them to say that Clinton's campaign wasn't all that bad.
In this, his nugget explanation, he correctly says that Clinton outperformed one predictive model. This leads him to suggest that Clinton's campaign just wasn't all that bad:
DRUM : [T]hat got me curious: how do Clinton and her campaign compare to past elections? There's no way to measure this directly, but you can get an idea by comparing actual election outcomes to the predictions of a good fundamental model. So I hauled out Alan Abramowitz's model, which has a good track record, and looked at how winning candidates performed compared to the baseline of what the model predicted for them.Drum acknowledges that this is a subjective question. Still and all, we're semi-gobsmacked by what he says about Candidate Trump in that passage.
According to this, Hillary Clinton did way better than any winning candidate of the past three decades, outperforming her baseline by 2.4 percent. Without the Comey effect, she would have outperformed her baseline by a truly epic amount.
Now, was this because she ran a good campaign, or because she had an unusually bad opponent? There's no way to tell, of course. Donald Trump was certainly a bad candidate, but then again, no one thinks that Dole or Gore or Kerry or McCain were terrific candidates either.
Bottom line: we don't have any way of knowing for sure, and this is an inherently subjective question. But the evidence of the Abramowitz model certainly doesn't suggest that Hillary Clinton ran an unusually poor campaign or that she was an unusually poor candidate. Maybe she was, but aside from cherry-picked anecdotes and free-floating Hillary animus, there's not really a lot to support this view.
Drum notes that Clinton outperformed the (necessarily crude) Abramowitz predictive model. He acknowledges that this may have happened because Clinton had "an unusually bad opponent" in Candidate Trump.
He goes on to say that Donald J. Trump "was certainly a bad candidate." But he says that Kerry and Gore and McCain were no great shakes themselves.
People! In a wide array of (subjective) ways, Donald J. Trump was the most god-awful candidate in our political history! At several points, he engaged in such bizarre extended behavior that people debated the possibility that he was trying to lose.
Judged by a somewhat objective measure, he currently has the lowest approval ratings of anyone elected president in the past three million years. By a fairly wide margin.
It has widely been said that a President Clinton would have horrible approval ratings now too. But it's a simple matter of fact that President Trump stands much lower than any elected candidate in the history of poling. This suggests the possibility that he was an historically horrible candidate.
Let's get clear on the way this works. If Candidate A runs a truly awful campaign, Candidate B can run a bad campaign and still outperform predictions. Is that what Candidate Clinton did? We don't see any real point in trying to figure that out.
We do see an unpleasant point in thinking about the Comey matter. Yesterday, Michael Tomasky wrote a piece about Comey's lack of fear of Democrats when he began his interventions last July. Drum links to, and agrees with, Tomasky here.
Comey staged the first of his intervention on July 5, 2016. Aside from Democrats, we can think of other people he had no need to fear when he made this fateful decision. They have names like Tomasky and Drum—and like Kornacki and Maddow.
A basic pattern has been acted out here, especially in Tomasky's piece and Drum's reaction to it. More of this misery tomorrow, with links to the silent past of our liberal intellectual leaders.
When Comey started down that road last July, Barney Fife would have known to nip it in the bud! Following Tomasky's line of reasoning, Comey may have understood that our big liberal stars were never going to do that.
At any rate, that's what happened. The same thing had happened again and again in the previous twenty-five years.
Long ago, Candidate Clinton got demonized in this way. The liberal silence, our lack of fight, politely persisted last summer.