What if Hillary Clinton is indicted?

hillary_clinton_email1Let us begin with a simple declaration: your columnist has no inside track at the FBI, and no insight to offer on the question as to whether our former senator and Secretary of State has anything criminal to hide. This column does not predict that she is likely to be indicted, or claim that she should be, or offer any prediction as to the odds of this situation arising. But there is an FBI probe into her handling of classified documents and it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that it could lead to criminal charges. Any charges against Clinton herself would certainly damage her political career, though how much would depend on the seriousness of the charges and, most especially, the timing. This column is speculating only on the second point.

February 2016. It is more likely than not that Senator Bernie Sanders will win the Iowa caucuses and highly likely that he will win the New Hampshire primary. He does not currently have much strength in the succeeding states – South Carolina and Nevada – because of his weakness with minority voters. Decisive wins in the first two states could shift the narrative somewhat, but at present it is expected that Clinton will triumph in both those states, and in many of the states which vote on March 1st, including Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Oklahoma and Tennessee, all of which have Democratic electorates with substantial minority representation. They are followed within weeks by Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Illinois and Ohio, where similar factors apply. But if Clinton were to be indicted after Iowa and New Hampshire, this would dramatically shift the dynamic of the campaign. It is not likely that Martin O’Malley, currently running third with single digit support could crank up his campaign in time to stop Sanders, who would probably emerge as winner of the Democratic nomination.

April-August 2016: What if Clinton sweeps the March and April primaries, with minor exceptions such as Vermont, which is the home state of Bernie Sanders, but is then indicted when she has effectively wrapped up the nomination? It is too late for another candidate to enter the campaign, but what if delegates are elected to the convention committed to vote for Hillary Clinton but she then withdraws from the contest? Those delegates would be uncommitted. The last time either party had significant numbers of uncommitted delegates was 1968, when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated after winning the California primary. He was leading in the delegate count, but his delegates had no-one to vote for. This would be the dream scenario for Joe Biden, who confusingly claims that he regrets his decision not to run “every day” but also that it was the right decision. He would face massive pressure from the party establishment to enter and claim Clinton’s delegates. If he refused, the situation would become even less predictable, with New York’s Andrew Cuomo possibly emerging as the favorite of the Clinton faction.

August-November 2016: If she were already the nominee, then the principal beneficiary would be the Republican nominee, though it is possible she could withdraw and the campaign could refocus on supporting her running mate. 

November-December 2016: If she won the election and pulled out before the Electoral College met, it would probably elect her running mate as president.

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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