Politics & Policy

The Torricelli Solution to the Coming Clinton Implosion

(Mike Segar/Reuters)
Will Joe Biden be the Democrats’ next Frank Lautenberg?

Last week’s shattering report by the State Department’s inspector general drew the conclusion that several of us at National Review have been urging for over a year: Hillary Clinton’s systematic conduct of government business over a homebrew e-mail system resulted in serious violations of federal law.

Mrs. Clinton’s withheld tens of thousands of government records (the e-mails) for nearly two years after she departed the State Department. She failed to return all government-related e-mails upon demand. She destroyed (or at least attempted to destroy) tens of thousands of e-mails without consultation with the State Department. And she did it all malevolently: for the manifest purpose of shielding her communications from the statutory file-keeping and disclosure requirements.

The inspector general euphemistically couches these violations as transgressions against “policies” and “procedures.” Yet his report also acknowledges that these policies and procedures were expressly made pursuant to, and are expressly designed to enforce compliance with, federal law. The State Department still strains to avoid stating the obvious: Mrs. Clinton is a law-breaker.

In an excellent column following release of the inspector general’s report, National Review’s John Fund envisioned the increasingly plausible implosion of Clinton’s candidacy — i.e., a scenario in which Democrats dump her owing to her metastasizing legal woes, coupled with her extraordinarily high negatives (general disapproval, untrustworthiness, unlikability, etc.). The latter are set in stone after a quarter-century’s antics.

Relatedly, on Twitter, I floated the possibility that Democrats could resort to the “Torricelli Solution.”

In October 2002, seeking reelection while beset by an indefensible corruption investigation, Senator Robert Torricelli was badly trailing his Republican rival, Doug Forrester, as the race came down to the wire — no small thing in the blue Garden State. At the eleventh hour (actually, more like after the twelfth hour), Democrats persuaded “the Torch” to step aside. Into his place they slid 78-year-old Frank Lautenberg, a reliably partisan former senator.

The lateness of the switcheroo denied Republicans a meaningful opportunity to campaign against Lautenberg, in violation of state election laws. But New Jersey’s solidly Democratic judiciary predictably looked the other way. Overnight, the polls flipped and Lautenberg won going away.

The point of my tweet was to poll the Twitterverse about who might play Lautenberg to Hillary’s Torricelli. The consensus choice was Vice President Joe Biden, who appeared poised to enter the race months back and seems to have been chomping at the bit ever since.

There was also a common inkling that Elizabeth Warren would be chosen as veep and heiress apparent. The hard-left senator is a natural choice: She would appease not only lefty women dismayed by Hillary’s implosion but also socialist Bernie Sanders supporters, who are the energy in the party at the moment.

This is the very ticket that John’s column foreshadows. He is probably right that Democrats would make the switch in the next few weeks rather than at the last minute. Mounting a national presidential campaign is much more complicated business than a compressed Senate race in a single state. Indeed, that is why it would take a well-known national figure like Biden to pull it off.

The longer Hillary perseveres, the more Democrats would be energized, when she finally pulled out, by their relief at being rid of the Clinton baggage once and for all.

As a practical matter, though, the later the trade could be made, the better for the Dems. The longer Hillary perseveres (and Donald Trump expends time and energy campaigning against her), the more Democrats would be energized, when she finally pulled out, by their relief at being rid of the Clinton baggage once and for all.

Of course, relief at Clinton’s departure would have to be discounted by the hit Democrats took when Obama issued the pardon Hillary would demand as the price of stepping aside. I deeply doubt that the Clintons would accept an Obama promise of a post-election pardon. They’d demand up front any pardons necessary to cover the e-mail scandal, the destruction of government files, and any corruption, fraud, or other offenses arising out of the Clinton Foundation. With Hillary’s nomination, the Clintons will have leverage, and they would surely use it to (a) pressure Obama to spin any pardons as an exoneration (“I see no criminal activity here, but for the good of the country . . . ”); (b) spare themselves the humiliation (and potentially worse) of criminal prosecution; and (c) protect the fortune they’ve amassed by monetizing their “public service.”

All the same, the Democrat-leaning media would devote big-time attention to the narrative of a suddenly recharged Democratic base. This would dramatically shorten the campaign time Republicans would have left to remind the public of Biden’s half-century of gaffes and policy misjudgments, as well as the radicalism and shenanigans of Warren, a.k.a. “Fauxcahontas.”

It is all serious business, but I can’t help being amused by a certain irony.

In late spring 2014, Faithless Execution, my book on impeachment, was published. In it, I argued that the Framers installed impeachment in the Constitution because they believed it was essential to preventing rogue presidents from destroying our governing framework, which is based on separation of powers. Though I demonstrated that President Obama was guilty of several high crimes and misdemeanors (as that term of art was understood by the Framers), I contended that it would be a mistake to attempt to impeach him absent first attempting to build strong public support. Impeachment is a political rather than a legal remedy, and if the public does not want the president removed, it does not matter how many high crimes and misdemeanors can be proved — he won’t be removed.

When the book was being rolled out, I had the occasion to travel on the Acela from New York to Washington with my friend and publisher, Roger Kimball. As we chatted about the book, a pleasant young man sitting across from us joined our conversation. It turned out that he worked on Capitol Hill. As we discussed President Obama’s doings and the unlikelihood that Congress, even if Republicans controlled it, would ever hold him accountable, the young man joked that Obama had a secret weapon: Vice President Biden was widely regarded as “the impeachment insurance.”

Now, the impeachment insurance may end up being the savior.

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