- Some Democrats fear they are entering a “Comey moment” in the wake of special counsel Robert Hur’s report.
- There are some notable differences between now and July 2016 when Comey held his famous press conference.
- A striking similarity is what the White House should fear.
A Justice Department official upends the presidential campaign with a scathing assessment of the leading Democrat, while announcing that there is insufficient evidence to prove criminal wrongdoing.
Democrats who have fever dreams about James Comey shouldn’t engage in a full-blown tantrum over special counsel Robert Hur’s harsh views on President Joe Biden’s allegedly declining memory.
The biggest difference is that Comey made his initial comments in July 2016, months later in the political calendar. Comey also made his statements on camera, a distinction that matters when cable TV producers can show old footage months later. And most critical of all, Comey took an infamous second bite out of Clinton on Oct. 28, the end of the month political buffs mark for big election surprises.
Unlike the final part of the election, many voters are tuned in now. A CNN poll in January found that only 26% of voters look for news about the campaign, while a third of voters pay no attention to the race.
The poll fits largely with a current crisis affecting national news outlets that have seen views and subscriptions crater from pandemic- and Trump-era levels. Biden succeeded in his desire to make the presidency boring again, and in the face of a rematch that no one wants, voters are disengaged from political news.
The West Wing should not celebrate.
Just because politics is boring to the average American doesn’t mean a single story can’t cut through, as former Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer notes.
“I fear — and hope I’m wrong — that unlike most of the fringes that plague political junkies, the Special Counsel’s descriptions of Biden will spread to the general public,” Pfeiffer wrote.
The most damaging part of Hur’s conclusion is that it largely confirms what many Americans already thought. There are tons of polls that all show that voters think Biden is too old—just look at the recent NBC poll that found 62% of voters have major concerns that Biden may not have “the necessary mental and physical health to to be president for a second. deadline.”
It should also be noted that the White House essentially rejects Hur’s claim that the president is slipping.
“We just refuse that this is true,” White House spokesman Ian Sams told reporters Friday. “I think it raises questions about forgery and it raises questions about why this is there.”
It didn’t help Biden’s defense that in the same appearance he defended his memory, he confused the president of Egypt with the president of Mexico.
Hur’s note that Biden couldn’t remember his time as vice president or when his son Beau died likely only exacerbated those fears.
The worst-case scenario for Democrats would be a cycle of stories that combine Hur’s report with polls about Biden’s age, and voters worry even more about Biden’s abilities as a result. This self-fulfilling cycle is the least fun version of how presidential candidates can turn a surprise victory into the current moment of the campaign.
Looking back, Hillary Clinton’s biggest problem with Comey in 2016 was that his findings reinforced voters’ fears that she was untrustworthy and corrupt. As Nate Silver noted in his review of the election coverage, Comney’s infamous letter to Congress days before the 2016 election led to Clinton’s “FBI” and “email” headlines for days.
Unlike Comey, much of this is under Biden’s control. With few exceptions, the only other shoes for his memory can come from his public statements. That’s why conservatives, beyond their never-happening hopes for the 25th Amendment, are pushing the Justice Department to release the transcript of Biden’s five-hour interview with Hur. Like the Democrats behind the Mueller report, the GOP wants to use every document and detail to further twist the knife.
However, Democrats see danger in this moment. Paul Begala, an old Clinton hand, joked that he is responding to his moment like a baby. Begala also suggested what the White House’s long-term answer might be: do it for former President Donald Trump.
“Look, I’m a Biden supporter and I slept like a baby last night,” Begala said on CNN Friday morning. “I used to wake up every two hours and wet the bed. That’s terrible for Democrats. And anybody with a functioning brain knows that … but that’s what you do, you attack the other guy.”