Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have both had their share of withering controversies during this election season. But the difference is that when Clinton gets ensnared in some kind of scandal or bad publicity, elected and established Democrats rush to her aid. And when Trump gets into trouble, the elected and established Republicans run away from him. The reason for this dichotomy is simple: Establishment Democrats have a lot vested in a Clinton victory, and establishment Republicans have almost nothing to gain if Trump wins.
The clearest two examples of this trend are the way the Republicans responded to the "Access Hollywood" tape catching Trump's vulgar comments about women and the way Democrats now are responding to the FBI's revelation of a new batch of emails in the Clinton email investigation.
When the "Access Hollywood" tape surfaced, not only did some top Republicans quickly denounce Trump, some rescinded their endorsements for him. But since the new Clinton/FBI news broke on Friday, Democrats have responded in lock step behind Clinton. Many of them are now directly attacking the FBI and Director James Comey, who made the announcement. The sharpest of those attacks comes from Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who published a letter accusing Comey of attempting to influence the election and therefore breaking the law (federal officials are prohibited by the Hatch Act from engaging in political activity). Reid went even further in the letter, claiming that the FBI "possesses explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government."
The attack-dog tone of this letter is a product of the fact that establishment Democrats need a Clinton victory to keep their existing power via the White House. Sure, the Democrats would also like to gain control of the House and Senate. But that's not as important as protecting a cozy political status quo that favors them in the federal bureaucracy controlled by the president. The Democrats have enjoyed a lot of new political capital during the Obama years, and losing that is not an option. And besides, they're used to defending the Clintons from all kinds of controversies. Hillary and Bill Clinton have been the focus of serious legal investigations for a quarter century. Almost every elected Democrat has defended them in the past and the Clintons are still standing anyway.
And guess what? Established Republicans have the exact same motivation when it comes to protecting their cozy political status quo. Except their goals are clearly the opposite. For people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, what exactly is the upside for them if Trump wins the White House? At best, they get to play second fiddle to a new top dog Republican in Washington and the world. At worst, they get to absorb every negative controversy and problem Trump endures as if it were their own. Sometimes, unity comes with a lot more punishment than reward.