Who’s in Charge Here: Morrissey More Like Trump than Clinton

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Last Friday, the Halloween weekend kicked off with a vengeance for politics-watchers, with two different stories seemingly rising from the grave. At the national level, Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server proved harder to put down than any of the Walking Dead. Here in Richmond, Mayoral candidate Joe Morrissey’s past indiscretions returned to haunt him.

At first glance, these seemed like similar stories – campaigns impacted by past scandals coming back to bite them at the worst possible time. But the more we find out about these stories, the more I think there might be a better comparison to make.

First, the Clinton “story” – and the quotes are deserved here. The long saga of Clinton’s e-mail server has been picked over for months, even years, so I can’t add much to it here. But in case you’ve been visiting Asgard for the past few years, you should know that: (1) while she was Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton kept a private e-mail server that also housed work e-mails; and (2) some of those e-mails may have been classified; BUT (3) the FBI finally concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence that Clinton mishandled classified info to proceed with a case against her.

So what happened on Friday? FBI Director James Comey wrote a letter to Congressional Republicans letting them know that there may be new e-mails in the case. Comey did this despite the fact that (1) it was against protocol and precedent, as he was warned by senior department officials; (2) no one had actually reviewed the e-mails, or even had any inkling of whether the e-mails had anything to do with classified information; (3) it being 11 days before a Presidential election, he was effectively inserting the FBI into the political process.

So why did Comey do this? He’s not gunning for Hillary Clinton – most people who know him report of how much he hates partisan politics. Instead, the best analysis I’ve seen suggests he’s running scared – after getting chewed out by both Republicans in Congress and his own (conservative, anti-Clinton) agents, he was trying to protect himself and the Agency against a potential leak. So Comey’s action is understandable… if craven. A law enforcement officer’s obligation is to uphold the law, not defend himself politically.

So as far as we can tell, there’s no actual new information here – no new e-mails that have been investigated, no additional evidence of any wrong-doing by Secretary Clinton, not even a hard number of how many e-mails actual relate to the case. (My guess is the number will be way less than the “thousands” reported this weekend.) In other words, there’s little here that will change people’s minds about Hillary Clinton. If you think she lied about her server and/or illegally exposed classified information – or worse – then you’ll see this story as confirmation that she should be in jail. If you think she’s been railroaded by Republicans in Congress and an overly hostile media, then this story confirms that she should be in the White House.

That’s a little different from what happened on Friday right here in Richmond. A former client of Mayoral front-runner Joe Morrissey alleged that he made sexual advances towards her while she was awaiting trial. On Saturday, a defiant Morrissey said he would continue his campaign, and demanded that the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which broke the story, print a retraction. The RTD stands by its reporting, naturally – especially since they have text messages that seem to contradict Morrissey’s claims.

These allegations follow Morrissey’s conviction in December 2014 for an inappropriate relationship with his then-17-year-old receptionist, now wife. Morrissey supporters have long ago given him a pass on his behavior, from his 2003 disbarment for a host of ethics violations to an attempt to bribe his way out of a community service sentence. It’s hard to know whether this most recent episode will have any impact on the mayoral race. But it probably should.

Clinton’s story is the proverbial nothingburger – a lot of noise but no new information. What we learned about Morrissey this weekend instead has a better analogy: the revelation of the “Billy Bush tape” that showed Clinton’s opponent, Donald Trump, offering his enlightened views on women in 2005.

(By the way, lost in the noise about Clinton’s e-mails were the results of a New York Times investigation into how Donald Trump used “legally dubious means” of avoiding paying taxes in the 1990s, and confirmation of a separate FBI inquiry into his former campaign manager’s Russian ties. Without the Comey letter, Trump would be having another in a series of bad weekends.)

I’ve warned before of drawing too close a comparison between Morrissey and Trump, but here the comparison is warranted, and not just because both stories concern sexual behavior. Morrissey’s text messages, just like Trump’s language and attitude in that infamous tape, reveal much about the candidate’s actual character, and not the mask he presents to the public. These revelations remind us who these men really are.

Following the release of the Trump tape, his poll numbers dropped precipitously in some states, but most Republicans still planned to vote for him. I would expect similar results from the Morrissey text revelations – most of his supporters will vote for him no matter what they learn.

At the national level, polls are tightening, but it’s not clear if the Comey letter is having much of an effect; the race would have probably gotten closer in the last week anyway. At the local level, we don’t have the same kind of data available, so we just have to hope that the most recent news might dent Morrissey’s support. If not, instead of the mayor we probably need, we might get the mayor we deserve.

Richard Meagher teaches politics at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA. Follow him on Twitter at @rjmarr. Follow his blog here.

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