The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.
You Had One Job
The Washington Post reports on an intriguing development in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of national secrets:
The Justice Department has granted immunity to a former State Department staffer, who worked on Hillary Clinton’s private email server, as part of a criminal investigation into the possible mishandling of classified information, according to a senior law enforcement official.
The official said the FBI had secured the cooperation of Bryan Pagliano, who worked on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign before setting up the server in her New York home in 2009.
As we noted in September, Pagliano had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to talk to the FBI, the State Department inspector general or Congress about the email scandal. The Post adds:
The Clinton campaign has described the probe as a security review. But current and former officials in the FBI and at the Justice Department have said investigators are trying to determine whether a crime was committed.
“There was wrongdoing,” said a former senior law enforcement official. “But was it criminal wrongdoing?”
There is a widespread assumption that even if the FBI does find criminal wrongdoing, the Obama Justice Department will never seek an indictment of the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee. What is perhaps most telling is something you don’t hear: strong protests of this cynical view. The corruption of law enforcement by partisan politics seems to be simply taken for granted—a Clinton legacy that will surely continue if Mrs. Clinton ends up in the White House next year.
It got us to thinking: Could this have been prevented a quarter-century ago? What if, when Bill Clinton emerged as the 1992 Democratic front-runner, responsible members of his party had staged a rebellion against him?
Imagine Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, giving a speech in opposition to Mr. Clinton. Dukakis might have highlighted the Arkansas governor’s ideological heterodoxies—support for the death penalty, opposition to “welfare as we know it,” a professed determination to slash the federal budget—which the Clinton campaign would tout in an October ad. And Dukakis could have warned that the Clintons would bring “Arkansas mores” to Washington, corrupting the government and fueling public cynicism.
This fanciful counterfactual was inspired by another bit of news: Mitt Romney’s speech this morning denouncing Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump. One doubts 1992 Democratic voters would have heeded Dukakis’s warnings—after all, four years earlier, he had one job, to recapture the White House for his party, and he failed.
Likewise for Romney, notwithstanding that he made some good points at Trump’s expense. But there’s an additional reason he is an especially flawed messenger for the anti-Trump message: In February 2012, just before the Nevada caucuses, Romney traveled to Las Vegas and appeared on stage with Trump to accept his endorsement, along with the promise not to run for president as an independent. Romney 2012 sounded very different from Romney 2016.
Romney said this today:
On the economy: If Donald Trump’s plans were ever implemented, the country would sink into prolonged recession. . . . His proposed 35% tariff-like penalties would instigate a trade war, and that would raise prices for consumers, kill our export jobs, and lead entrepreneurs and businesses of all stripes to flee America.
But in 2012, according to a contemporaneous CNN.com report, “Romney responded [to Trump’s accolades] by praising Trump for ‘an extraordinary ability to understand how our economy works and to create jobs’ and for being ‘one of the few who has stood up to say China is cheating’ in international trade.”
Today Romney scathed Trump’s business acumen:
But you say, ”Wait, wait, wait—isn’t he a huge business success? Doesn’t he know what he’s talking about?” No, he isn’t, and no, he doesn’t. Look, his bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who worked for them. He inherited his business, he didn’t create it. And whatever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there’s Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks and Trump Mortgage. A business genius, he is not.
In 2012, CNN quoted Romney as saying: “I spent my life in the private sector, not quite as successful as this guy but successful nonetheless.”
Today Romney also criticized Trump for having “changed his positions”—which he has, including his position on Romney. As CNN noted in 2012:
Trump was not always so positive regarding Romney’s record. During an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” in April, Trump criticized Romney for eliminating jobs while in the private sector.
“He’d buy companies. He’d close companies. He’d get rid of jobs,” Trump told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. “I’ve built a great company. My net worth is many many times Mitt Romney.”
Asked what changed since then to bring his endorsement of Romney, Trump told CNN later Thursday that his past comments were “political talk.”
One could say the same of Romney’s 2012 flattery of Trump, if one assumes he was insincere then and sincere this morning. It is even a logical possibility that Romney was sincere both then and now—that new evidence, or a closer look at the evidence, has convinced Romney that he was wrong about Trump.
But that would imply a stunning level of naiveté on the part of the 2012 Romney. Trump’s shortcomings were far from obscure back then, as the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein wrote on Feb. 2, 2012:
Today’s embrace of Donald Trump is a colossal blunder that will come back to haunt him.
Romney’s entire candidacy was based on the idea that he was the most serious and presidential candidate in the race. Publicly accepting the endorsement of a reality show tabloid figure makes him look silly. Remember, Romney didn’t do a joint appearance to accept the endorsement of Jon Huntsman, a former governor and U.S. ambassador.
Trump is also a loose cannon who will say anything for headlines. At this afternoon’s event, Romney shook Trump’s hand, said he was “honored” by his endorsement and said it meant a “great deal” to him. Now, any of Trump’s crazy statements, past or future, can be linked to Romney in a 30-second attack ad by showing footage from today’s circus. The DNC could put out an ad, for instance, of Trump’s birther statements spliced together with clips of Romney and Trump. For Democrats, it’s a gift that will keep giving should Romney become the nominee.
Although that last prediction proved less than prophetic, as the Democrats had plenty of other material and didn’t have to play the Trump card. (They might also have concluded that calling attention to Trump’s “birther statements” wouldn’t actually help President Obama among voters who didn’t already support him.)
At any rate, Romney offered no explanation for, or acknowledgment of, the 180-degree change in his stated opinion of Trump. One is left to conclude that the 2012 Romney, the 2016 Romney or both were engaged in mere “political talk” just like Trump—though unlike Trump, without being willing to admit it.
Today Romney did not endorse a candidate but advised Republicans to vote tactically:
I believe we can nominate a person who can win the general election and who will represent the values and policies of conservatism. Given the current delegate selection process, that means that I vote for Marco Rubio in Florida, and for John Kasich in Ohio, and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.
In other words, no candidate is especially good, but they’re all acceptable while Trump is awful. No doubt many voters share that sentiment, but the message is a cynical and dispiriting one, and the call to action is more complicated than inspiring.
No wonder the electorate is in a foul enough mood to make Trump the front-runner. But look on the bright side: Mrs. Trump isn’t a natural-born citizen, so at least we don’t have to worry she’ll run for president in 2040.
For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.