What does the surprising news that the FBI is re-opening its investigation into the Hillary Clinton email scandal mean for the presidential election now just 11 days away?
The answer is best stated in poker terms. If public opinion and perception was the dealer, Clinton has now clearly been dealt a bad hand.
First, it's important to note that no crime has been proven yet against Clinton and there's no way of knowing if this new investigation will lead to any charges or a conviction. But poll after poll shows that Clinton's trustworthiness is a major issue with the voters and this news strongly reinforces those negative impressions. Trump slapped that mean "crooked Hillary Clinton" title on her for a reason, and fairly or not fairly, that image stuck in the minds of a lot of people.
Donald Trump's hand isn't exactly a winning one either.
We will never know if Trump is truly as aggressive and vulgar with women as he sounded on that "Access Hollywood" tape that blew up a few weeks ago. But the image of Trump as something much less of a gentleman and certainly crude with women might as well be etched in stone. And of course he helped to promote that negative image with so many of his rude comments during the primaries and general election process.
But when it comes to who we want to put in the White House to lead the country, a vulgar candidate is still a better choice than someone we think is corrupt. It's a distasteful choice to be sure, but not many people would choose a candidate who they believe habitually breaks the law over someone who habitually breaks the rules of etiquette.
This news definitely improves on Trump's chances to win. In any other election, news like this breaking just eleven days before Election Day would not likely make a difference. But this election is different. With both main candidates struggling with record high unfavorable ratings, nothing can come too late to affect millions of voters who could finally find one candidate or the other simply too unlikable to bother to vote for.
In any other election, the horrible things Trump said on that "Access Hollywood" tape would indeed result in a 20-point lead or more for Clinton. But they didn't, and that tells you so much about how much more vulnerable Clinton is to bad publicity than Trump ever is. This email probe news provides a lot of Americans very uneasy about voting for Trump, and saying so publicly, the perfect "surprise" excuse for voting for a guy so many of their friends and family personally detest.
Of course, this still doesn't mean this election is over. I received dozens of emails and messages from Trump supporters in the minutes after the investigation news broke telling me that Trump had the race "in the bag" now. Not quite. There are still those eleven days to go, for one thing. And there's also the chance that Trump or Clinton could somehow be dealt a new public perception card that's worse or better than what they have now.
But Trump's apparent vulgarity is now no longer even close to the biggest story in this election, and Clinton's perceived-by-many criminal image is. That's not the hand Clinton wants to be holding now that the chips are down and the voters are about to call.