The New York Times broke the news about Hillary Clinton's secret, private email server that she used "exclusively" while secretary of state, but now the paper is poo-pooing the suggestion that this revelation could affect her chances to win the presidency in 2016.
The actual public response to the controversy is likely to be a combination of apathy and partisanship. Few Americans are paying attention to any aspect of the campaign at this point. Those who do notice will most likely divide largely along partisan lines, with Democrats interpreting her actions more charitably, especially once they see Republicans attacking Mrs. Clinton on the issue.
Any significant political costs are also likely to be fleeting because the revelations came so early in the campaign cycle. It is hard to believe that a lack of transparency in Mrs. Clinton's use of email will have a significant effect on a general election that will be held some 20 months from now. As the political scientist John Sides wrote on Twitter, "In October 2016, no persuadable voter will be thinking about Hillary Clinton's email account." It's equally implausible that this revelation will draw a second top-tier candidate into the race for the Democratic nomination given the advantages Mrs. Clinton retains over possible rivals like Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.
I'm certainly rooting against Hillary, so maybe I'm biased, but I'm not so sure of Brendan Nyhan's conclusion. Some thoughts:
- Americans understand email. Every email user will cringe if you suggest that their email history might be made publicly available. So they will wonder: why was Hillary hiding her work email? What's on there that she doesn't want anyone to see?
- Hillary apparently fired the ambassador to Kenya in 2012 for using private email and in 2007 attacked Bush administration officials for using private email.
- There's no way to know if everything was turned over to the State Department. Just trust her?
- What if her private email server was hacked, and we just don't know it yet?
- With the Clintons there's a never-ending drip, drip, drip of scandal. "Emailgate" or "Servergate" or whatever this gets called won't be the last.
- It's true that "in October 2016, no persuadable voter" will care about the email... but how many formerly persuadable voters will have turned against Hillary before that point?