Point/Counterpoint: Comey’s Letter Did NOT Cost Clinton The Election

Rusat Ramgopal, Reporter

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James Comey sent his infamous letter to Congress on October 28, 2016, detailing that the FBI was investigating emails sent by Hillary Clinton to Huma Abedin which were found on Anthony Weiner’s computer. On that morning, a USA TODAY poll showed the race at Hillary: 45% Trump: 41%. On Election Day, she won 48 % of the popular vote. After the Comey letter, Clinton’s popular support actually increased not decreased. This simple reason contradicts the claim that Clinton lost the election because of James Comey’s letter.

However, Clinton continues to claim in multiple interviews that it was Comey’s letter that was a primary factor in her election defeat. In fact, it was Comey’s earlier announcement on July 5, 2016 that Clinton would not be facing prosecution that led to her initial boost in the polls, starting the polling lead over Trump that she had throughout the summer. A Reuters poll from that time showed Clinton with a 13 point lead over Trump (Clinton: 46 Trump: 33). Therefore,  Comey actually helped her more than hurt her as his previous announcement regarding the Clinton email case helped her more than his second announcement did hurt her.

However, the claims that it was Comey’s letter that alter the course of the election still persist.

Those supporting this claim ignore the fact that Clinton lost the election because of the Electoral College and more specifically because she lost the electoral votes of the Rust Belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania that she expected to win. It is because of these states that she did not win the 270 electoral votes needed to become president yet still won the majority of the popular vote.

Clinton was projected to win the election, win the Electoral College, and win the Rust Belt states. Her campaign was so confident they would win the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin that they referred to them as part of her “blue wall”. President Trump tore that wall down.

    It is because Clinton was projected to win these states that on the morning of the election, she was projected to win at least 268 Electoral Votes. She ended up winning 228 Electoral Votes (she was supposed to win  232 but lost 4 due to faithless electors). The states of Michigan (16 Electoral Votes), Pennsylvania (20 Electoral Votes), and Wisconsin (10 Electoral Votes), which she was projected to win, are worth a total of 46 Electoral Votes.

Had she won those, she would have won 274 Electoral Votes (barring any additional faithless electors), more than the 270 she needed to win. If she had won those states, she would have become the 45th President and no one would have been claiming that the Comey letter cost her the election.

The main reasons she lost the election include the main reasons that she lost these states in the Rust Belt region of the country. Trump was able to bring a populist argument and appeal regarding trade and the loss of American jobs that Clinton was not able to successfully refute.

She not only continued to support trade deals such as NAFTA and the proposed TPP but she did not make enough of an effort to appeal to the working-class Rust Belt voters in particular. These are the voters that cost her the election. These are the voters that she said fit into “a basket of deplorables”. These voters include the coal miners who she promised to put out of work. Statements by Clinton such as these alienated Trump supporters from possibly supporting her.

These voters resided in the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, three states that she barely visited throughout the election and three states that have voted for the Democratic nominee in every presidential election for the past 28 years. But there was a reason that this Democratic nominee was not fit to rule in the eyes of the voters of these states. She did not visit Wisconsin at all during the general election and she only visited Michigan and Pennsylvania during the final week of the general election despite others in her campaign such as Bill Clinton himself, advising her to do so because of the fear and the possibility that she would lose those states.

She lost the election because of multiple  reasons but it is clear that Comey’s letter was not a primary reason for her losing the election. The primary reason is that she lost the Rust Belt states, she refused to campaign in the states when necessary, she supported the trade deals that hurted the working class individuals of these states, she didn’t understand the populist appeal for which they supported Trump, and she made disparaging statements towards them.

Did Comey force her to call Trump supporters in these states part of “basket of deplorables” and promise to put the coal miners out of work? Did Comey force her to not campaign in the states that she eventually lost along the Rust Belt? The answer is no, the answer is that Comey did not cost Clinton the election.

There’s no doubt that he played a role in the election. But that role of his letter to Congress was so minor and miniscule that the poll difference after the release of his October letter to Congress and the actual election day results show an increase of support for Clinton. The truth is that the largest role Comey played in the election was when he released his letter in July saying that she would not be charged, which closed the email question at that time and led to the Clinton’s increased lead in the polls during the summer.

So when it is asked why Clinton lost the election, the first answer should not be  Comey’s letter. It should be that Clinton lost the Rust Belt. Until Clinton herself and her supporters can acknowledge that, it is evident that she still doesn’t understand the true reason she lost, the Rust Belt voter.

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