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GOP should let voters prosecute Hillary Clinton over email scandal

Reps. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., left, and Will Hurd, R-Texas, attend a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Rayburn Building featuring testimony by FBI Director James Comey on the investigation of a private email server used by Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State, July 7, 2015.
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images
Reps. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., left, and Will Hurd, R-Texas, attend a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Rayburn Building featuring testimony by FBI Director James Comey on the investigation of a private email server used by Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State, July 7, 2015.

The FBI and Department of Justice decision not to indict Hillary Clinton over her email scandal has presented the Republican Party leadership with a tremendous political and public relations opportunity.

So far, they're blowing it.

Thursday the House Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee grilled FBI Director James Comey, with some of the GOP committee members expressing their outrage at Comey's decision not to indict. Other Republicans during the hearing attempted to reveal new facts and other details about the case in an ersatz trial. Both of those responses are way off the mark if the GOP really wants to find a way to win on this story now and in November. But only a bunch of career politicians and Washington insiders would fail to recognize this opportunity for what it is and act on it. This is a great chance to remind the voters that in this rare case, they are finally the ones who will render the ultimate and most effective judgment.

Let's be clear, there is only one judgment Hillary Clinton and her supporters care about and that's the judgment the voters are going to make on November 8th. Losing the election, especially against someone like Donald Trump, would be the worst possible punishment for Clinton for this or any other misdeeds. It would also be a stern rebuke to President Barack Obama for any and all favoritism he and his administration have shown to Clinton before and during this election. In this case, the voters will certainly have more power to come to and enforce a verdict than any law enforcement agency.

Now let's talk about which voters we're talking about here. We know hard core Democrats are almost completely discarding the email scandal and certainly aren't outraged by Director Comey's decision. And that's fine, because hard core Democrats are never going to vote for Trump or down-ticket Republicans anyway. But what about a still somewhat-divided Republican voter base and the all-important 15 percent to 20 percent of American voters who are either undecided or could realistically change their minds in this election? If you were a Republican candidate for office, what's your best option? Is it a) holding more hearings and carrying out more investigations or b) telling the Republican base and all the undecided voters who can still be persuaded that THEY have the power to decide and end this email scandal matter once and for all. Spoiler alert! The answer is b.

"Instead of wasting their time yelling at Comey ... the Republicans should be going directly to the American voters and empowering them with the chance to prosecute this matter."

So far, the Republicans are failing that simple multiple choice test. Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan even said that there are still "more questions than answers" about the Clinton email scandal. That's almost the complete opposite of what he should have said which would have been: "All the questions HAVE now been answered by the FBI. Hillary Clinton broke the law. Now it's up to the American people, not us in Washington, to show her that no one is above the law. It's up to you the voters to prove that political power comes from the people and is not the divine right of some kind of ruling class. You can save democracy with your vote on November 8th." That's the kind of message that would resonate all the way to Election Day for the Congressional Republicans running for office.

As for Trump, he hasn't made the mistake of focusing too much on Comey or calling for hearings. But so far even he hasn't made it as clear as possible that this matter is ultimately in the voters' hands. The closest he came was one Tweet where he said "come November 8, she's OUT!" That's a start, but it still isn't an example of the most effective messaging coming out of this email/non-indictment story.

Republicans have made this kind of misdirected firepower mistake before. Whether it's the attacks against the Fed, filing lawsuits to stop Obamacare, or procedural tricks that backfired in the Iran nuclear deal, the GOP seems unable to take their case to the voters and let them decide these matters. As a result, the Democrats can falsely claim the American people support their policies. When the truth is the Republicans have never clearly and effectively told the voters that they are the ones who have the power to reject them at the ballot box. As the Brexit results proved, even people who don't think their voices are usually heard can get very motivated to vote on a particular issue. And those results can often come as a surprise to the elites and entrenched powers in government and the media.

Instead of wasting their time yelling at Comey or trying to think of new ways to charge Clinton, the Republicans should be going directly to the American voters and empowering them with the chance to prosecute this matter. But their recent history suggests the GOP will let this opportunity slip away too.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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