Littwin: Hillary’s homebrew server and the Democrats’ empty bench

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or those Democrats starting to panic about Hillary Clinton and the email flap, they need to understand at least two things:

It’s too early to panic. And it’s too late.

As scandals go, the one thing you can count on is that this won’t be the last of its kind. We’re not even sure whether to call it a scandal or, as columnist Joe Canason put it the other day, a “scandal.”

Whichever it is — and I would put it more in the blunder category — you can bet that the email story is not going away any time soon. It not only looks bad, it is bad. It’s a blow against government transparency and a reminder of every concern that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party has about Clinton.

But the real problem is not Clinton, who is a frontrunner for a reason. As one prominent Arkansas Republican once told me, the surest way to lose to the Clintons is to make the race about them. The real problem for Democrats is that, if things really do go wrong, there’s no fallback plan. They have Clinton and only Clinton. Meanwhile, Republicans, who are much practiced in attacking Clintons, can’t resist. And so, get used to it.

[pullquote]It’s too early to panic. And it’s too late.[/pullquote]

In any case, I doubt if many votes will change in 2016 because Clinton used a “homebrew email server” — the apparent term of art for the Clinton setup — when she was Secretary of State instead of using a government account. If it hadn’t been reported first in the New York Times, and if it hadn’t come on the heels of the Clinton Foundation foreign donations story, we might be talking about something else, like the Nuggets’ winning streak.

Instead, we are reminded that scandal and/or “scandal” follow the Clintons wherever they go.

You can pick your own narrative for this one: It’s overhyped. It’s another case of Clinton entitlement. It’s the old Clinton obsession with privacy. It’s the old Clinton obsession with privacy born of every Republican attack. It’s an unforced error. It’s the unlearned lesson of 2008. It’s little different than what Colin Powell did when he was Secretary of State.

But the enduring narrative will be that Clinton must have been hiding something. And even if no one can prove that she was, Clinton will have a hard time proving she wasn’t.

Now Clinton has said she wants the 55,000 pages of emails she turned over to the State Department to be made public. That’s a lot of pages — and they’ll have to be checked first to see whether national security is involved — but there are more pages that she didn’t turn over, and the demand will be that she turns those over, too.

But even if all is revealed, it won’t be enough, because how can we know if all is revealed? That’s the problem Clinton has made for herself.

One lesson of 2008 was supposed to be that Clinton needed to be more open. But so far, she hasn’t answered a question about the emails. Eventually she’ll have to say why she chose to set up a private account and why, it turns out, a Clinton-era ambassador was fired, in part, because he was using a private email account. It’s hard to see any explanation other than Clinton wanting to make it difficult for the press and for Congress to get at her emails, as if she had anticipated that there would be a Benghazi “scandal” — yes, that one is clearly a “scandal” — that would never go away.

What we see now is that the Obama administration was chasing down reporters over leaks while Hillary Clinton was running a private email that, for all we know, was vulnerable to hackers.

And yet, it’s not exactly unreasonable for Clinton to have anticipated fishing expeditions. We know the whole sad history. And now, the email story will give Republicans the opportunity to extend the never-ending Benghazi hearings, in which one committee clears Clinton and the next begins anew.

What I mean is, you can fire up your computer, with or without homebrew email, and find bumper stickers that say, “Hillary Clinton for Prison 2016.” If that doesn’t explain everything, it’s a start.

There’s the other issue, though. And that’s how Democrats got themselves into a situation. While Democrats like to mock the overflowing Republican clown car presidential field, Democrats don’t have enough legitimate presidential candidates to fill a Mini.

Joe Biden is not just too old. He’s Joe Biden. Elizabeth Warren is not running, and, as appealing as she might be to liberals, she wouldn’t win if she did run. Bernie Sanders? At this point, he’s not even a Democrat. Martin O’Malley? Did you ask who Martin O’Malley was? Jim Webb? Really?

It would take a real scandal — one of giant proportions — to change that dynamic. Don’t expect to find one in your email.

[ Control Panel photo by Cory Doctorow via Flickr.]

He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.