On Saturday, US President Barack Obama took a break and spent time golfing, completing a round at a nearby course. He’s probably more teed off at the realisation that rather than spending the waning months of his presidency attending to affairs of state, he has had to focus on campaigning for his party’s nominee for the presidential election, Hillary Clinton.
Ten days ago, he would have expected his schedule to be lighter. Clinton was comfortably ahead in the polls, nationally and in the majority of swing states, pushing her well beyond the required number of electoral college votes. It was then that the letter from Federal Bureau of Investigation’s director James Comey surfaced — the agency was reopening the investigation into Clinton’s personal email server. This isn’t the only inquiry that she faces: There’s also an examination into whether contributions to the Clinton Foundation influenced matters at the State Department while she headed it, popularly described as pay-to-play; the Internal Revenue Service is inspecting the Foundation as well. All that does not even take into account the barrage of information in the hacked emails of Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta that’s been steadily released by Wikileaks.
Clinton campaign has spent its time firefighting, needing plenty of water to try and douse the flames that threaten it, and Obama may well be left holding the can. The President still enjoys decent favourability ratings, but Clinton’s unlikeability quotient may even have outstripped that of Republican Donald Trump. In the process, the reputation that the Obama White House has earned for probity has become mired in Clintonian mud.
It’s not the only victim. Even as the original FBI investigation was in progress, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch was caught having a secret chat with Bill Clinton at an airport runway, at the latter’s instance. Lynch, when she was nominated, had bipartisan support unlike her predecessor Eric Holder, and integrity was her calling card. The encounter with the former President shredded that card. Meanwhile, Obama himself endorsed Clinton before the investigation was complete, giving rise to charges that the fix was in. When the FBI exonerated her soon after, despite calling her behaviour “careless”, those conspiracy theories received a boost.
Clinton used the FBI’s decision not to prosecute, on the campaign trail, even pointing out that Director Comey was a Republican. Unfortunately for her, once he reopened the investigation, the argument that his political leanings dictated that decision sounded baseless.
She could still win the election, simply because, by comparison, her rival has proved so offensive to so many demographics, from women to Hispanics, not to mention the variety of legal issues he faces including a court case against Trump University, an investigation of the Trump Foundation, and multiple allegations of sexual harassment. But in the last week-and-a-half not only have events helped him narrow the gap in polling but also in perception, particularly the yuck factor.
Clinton’s mounting troubles have led to the prospect of her victory on 8 November to be truly historic: Not only will she be the first woman to capture the Oval Office, but also the first President-elect to face a possible indictment by a federal agency. If that does occur, those circumstances will roil either the final two months of Obama’s tenure or the initial period of a Clinton term. Essentially, an administration that has been largely free of scandal is now sullied courtesy the Clinton investigations.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, Obama, having endorsed Hillary, will have to trudge through the remaining days in the White House with a Clinton handicap.