While there is much in the Wikileaks documents that is or should be deeply embarrassing to Democrats, the impact of the revelations from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails hasn’t come close to equaling the recent damage to Donald Trump. This has left Trump’s supporters frustrated and has given more intensity to their allegations that the mainstream media is in the tank for Clinton. Are they right?
The antipathy of much of the mainstream media for Republicans and conservatives in general and Trump, in particular, is not in question and is much-deserved. That the latest accusations come from the New York Times is enough to cause many Trump voters to dismiss them without so much as a moment’s thought.
But media bias only goes so far in explaining Trump’s problems or why the Wikileaks dumps haven’t harmed Clinton as much as they might have.
The first problem is that audio and video always hurts more than an email. The fact that we can hear Donald Trump’s voice live boasting about being a sexual predator is the sort of thing that is always going to have more traction than a mere document, no matter what it might say.
Second, though Trump’s supporters keep saying issues are what’s important and that personal character should be ignored—which contradicts a lot of what Republicans were saying about Bill Clinton in the 1990s—the notion that voters can ignore these kinds of personal allegations goes against everything we know about politics. The Trump campaign may think it can drown out the charges against him with an effort to shift the focus to Bill Clinton’s misdeeds, but it’s not clear how that helps the billionaire or hurts Hillary.
Third, part of the problem with Republican efforts to exploit the Wikileaks documents is their origin. Republicans have traditionally taken a dim view of such efforts to undermine U.S. national security by people like Edward Snowden and Wikileaks’ Julian Assange. That’s doubly true of Russian efforts to hack into the Democratic National Committee or the Clinton campaign, as the U.S. government alleges. This discussion reminds voters about how Trump has positioned himself in this race as the candidate in favor of appeasement of Russia and Vladimir Putin in much the same way Barack Obama did about his intention to push for a rapprochement with Iran. If the media are tilting toward Clinton, the Russians seem to be weighing in on behalf of Trump, and that takes a lot of the sting out of the leaks.
Fourth, the latest Wikileaks documents the Trump campaign is promoting are about statements from her supporters, not the candidate. The disparaging remarks about Catholics and Southerners that were made by Podesta and others reflect the mindset of her inner circle and that should be held against the Democrat. But that’s not as harmful as it might have been had Clinton actually been caught saying the same things.
Perhaps in a world in which the Republican candidate wasn’t burdened by the sort of personal allegations that are dogging Trump, the Wikileaks documents would, when added to the email and foundation scandals, doom Clinton to defeat. But we don’t live in such a world.