If you happened to be outside late this morning and felt a sudden wind, it could have been the result of tens of millions of Democrats exhaling simultaneously. The FBI announcement that it would not recommend prosecution of Hillary Clinton to the Justice Department was not unexpected. But in a wild election year, it did eliminate one “black swan” event that might have turned the political world upside down.
The possibility of a Clinton indictment, slim as it was, represented the sole justification for the even slimmer prospects of Bernie Sanders suddenly becoming the candidate of every single Democratic superdelegate and winning a presidential nomination later this month. You can expect the already formidable pressure on Sanders to bring his candidacy to a formal end and endorse Clinton to increase immediately.
James Comey also dashed the dreams of many Republicans, particularly in the Donald Trump camp, that all of the advantages Clinton held in the general-election contest would be swept away by some other course of events, even short of actual criminal charges. These might have included a FBI recommendation that was rejected by an attorney general already in the political crossfire for her brief tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton, or perhaps a Comey resignation or a mass resignation of FBI agents involved in the investigation.
In the immediate wake of the announcement, of course, Republicans will allege political tampering with the investigation and its fruits, even as they wring whatever they can from Comey’s censorious statements about Clinton’s recklessness. Beyond that, the email “scandal” will slowly fade into the background as part of a more general political indictment of “Crooked Hillary” and her crooked husband.
Meanwhile, Team Hillary must decide whether to claim vindication, or simply ignore the entire email saga as just another ax-grinding product of the double standard applied to the putative first woman to become president. Either way, an enormous boulder in the road to the White House has now been removed, and we can begin to look at the presidential contest with one important hypothetical removed.