Here's some interesting polling news. However, the interesting part isn't immediately obvious. First up is the Kaiser tracking poll, which asks if people have a favorable or unfavorable view of Obamacare:

Got it? Now here is today's PPP poll, which asks if people support or oppose Obamacare:

Kaiser and PPP agree precisely on support for Obamacare: it's at 47 percent. But they produce way different results on opposition: Kaiser has it at 46 percent and PPP has it at 31 percent. The difference is that PPP shows a large number of people who aren't sure.

Why? Is this the difference between "view unfavorably" and "oppose"? Or a difference between Kaiser and PPP? It's too big to be a mere statistical blip.

The most obvious interpretation is that there are lots of people who have unfavorable views of Obamacare but don't outright oppose it. If that's true, it seems like a pretty obvious opportunity for Democrats.

Many of you only read this blog on weekdays. That's OK. I understand that my random musings may be better than filling out yet another TPS report but not as good as doing actual fun stuff. However, sometimes this means you miss some good posts.

For example: James Comey. On Saturday, in a very long post, I made the case that Comey was the decisive factor in Hillary Clinton's loss, not Clinton herself or her campign. You should read it! And this too.

Right after I wrote that, the New York Times published a detailed story about why Comey did what he did. My take on the Times piece was simple: "At every step of the way, Comey demonstrated either his fear of crossing Republicans or his concern over protecting his own reputation from Republican attack." You should read this too!

Today, to wrap things up, I want to highlight a couple of additional points. Several people suggested that although Comey screwed up, I should have also mentioned the role the press played in this. I don't want to relitigate the entire campaign, but Nate Silver makes a pithy point about how the press handled the Comey letter:

From the time Comey's letter went public to the time he (once again) exonerated Hillary Clinton, Clinton's emails were the top news story in 12 out of 14 news cycles even though there was zero evidence that the emails were either new or incriminating or interesting in any way. Even after years of being taken for a ride on this stuff, the press just couldn't get enough. All you had to do was breathe something about new emails and they went nuts.

Second, Mike Tomasky makes a point about Comey that I only touched on because my posts were already so long. Here it is:

Fear of political fallout seems to have motivated almost everything he did. Kevin Drum made this point over the weekend. But Drum didn’t emphasize what is to me the most telling thing, which is that there is one group Comey appears not to have feared at all: Democrats.

....The Times talked to 30 people, and apparently the idea that Comey may have feared how the Democrats would react to any action of his just wasn’t brought up. Amazing. Remember what the guy did: He excoriated Clinton’s ethics; he announced a reopening of an investigation 11 days before the election with no evidence that there was any reason to think Anthony Weiner’s laptop would revealing a smoking gun (it did not, as Comey subsequently announced); and finally, he kept from the public the fact that his bureau was also investigating the other presidential candidate.

And through it all, he was worried about what Republicans would do to him, but apparently never concerned about how Democrats would react to anything he did.

I've spent a lot of time over the past few years mocking the Republican Benghazi obsession, but this is where it paid off. After four years of this stuff, of course Comey was afraid he'd be the target of endless hearings if Clinton won and it later turned out there was something in the emails. But if Trump won and there was nothing in the emails? People like me would write some critical blog posts. Democrats here and there would mutter about Comey interfering in the election. But that would be it. Republicans had a well-developed reputation as ravening pit bulls. Democrats had a well-developed reputation as occasionally irritable poodles. Everybody wrings their hands over this, but it worked out pretty well for Republicans, didn't it?

I don't really have any point to make about this, but I was curious about how Marine Le Pen's National Front has done over the past few decades in elections for president of France. Here it is:

Since taking over the National Front, Marine Le Pen's strategy has been to sell a softer, less overtly racist version of the party her father founded. This, combined with the nationalist fervor supposedly taking over Europe, has produced a result 4.5 percentage points higher than her lunatic dad received in 1997 and 3.5 points higher than Marine herself received in 2012.

Is that a lot? A little? I'm not sure. It doesn't seem like a huge swing to me, and it's a sharp drop from the vote share the party received in recent elections for regional councils and the European Parliament. I don't know enough about French politics to venture an opinion, but it doesn't seem like strong evidence in favor of a big European swing to the nationalist right.

Conservative writer Jay Nordlinger engages in some nostalgia today:

Remember when we knocked President Obama for spending so much time on the golf course? Not all of us did, but many of us did. Donald Trump, for example, was unrelenting in his criticism.

You don’t hear that anymore. Conservatives don’t knock the president for spending so much time on the golf course.

....Remember how we counted up the times Obama said “I” and “me” in a speech? That was fun. It was kind of a conservative pastime. We don’t do that anymore.

....I was looking at Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock in the White House. What a trio! Striking poses in front of Hillary’s portrait and so on. I flashed back to the Clinton ’90s.

Two showbiz women, Markie Post and Linda Thomason, were jumping on the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom. A photo circulated. Man, did we hate it. You have no idea what a big deal this was (to us)!

Good times.

From Donald Trump, explaining why he said NATO was obsolete during the campaign:

I was on Wolf Blitzer, very fair interview, the first time I was ever asked about NATO, because I wasn't in government. People don't go around asking about NATO if I'm building a building in Manhattan, right? So they asked me, Wolf ... asked me about NATO, and I said two things. NATO's obsolete — not knowing much about NATO, now I know a lot about NATO — NATO is obsolete, and I said, "And the reason it's obsolete is because of the fact they don't focus on terrorism."

This is not the first time Trump has said something like this. I wonder if he even realizes that it sounds bad when he admits he was just blathering during the campaign because he didn't know what he was talking about?

Here's something very simple that I find pretty useful during my photo outings: a small beanbag. When not in use, it sits at the bottom of your camera bag and gives the camera a little extra cushion. In use, you just set your camera down on it. If the surface is rocky, it helps to stabilize the camera. If the surface is flat but not level, you can smoosh it around until the camera is pointed in the right direction.

The beanbag is nice if you don't have a tripod on hand, or if you need to put the camera down in a small place where a tripod won't work. Once it's set, you can pretty easily take nice, sharp photos even with long shutter times. I'll post an example tomorrow.

My beanbag was custom made for me, so you can't have it. But I assume they're fairly easy to find or make. A beanbag filled with little beads of silly putty or something similar might be even better, but I don't where you could find something like that.

A couple of hours ago I tweeted this:

Shattered tells us in loving detail about every mistake the Clinton campaign made, but every losing campaign gets that treatment. Her campaign also did a lot of things right. My horseback guess is that when you put it all together, she was about average as a candidate and her campaign was about average as a campaign.

But that got me curious: how do Clinton and her campaign compare to past elections? There's no way to measure this directly, but you can get an idea by comparing actual election outcomes to the predictions of a good fundamental model. So I hauled out Alan Abramowitz's model, which has a good track record, and looked at how winning candidates performed compared to the baseline of what the model predicted for them. Here it is:

According to this, Hillary Clinton did way better than any winning candidate of the past three decades, outperforming her baseline by 2.4 percent. Without the Comey effect, she would have outperformed her baseline by a truly epic amount.

Now, was this because she ran a good campaign, or because she had an unusually bad opponent? There's no way to tell, of course. Donald Trump was certainly a bad candidate, but then again, no one thinks that Dole or Gore or Kerry or McCain were terrific candidates either.

Bottom line: we don't have any way of knowing for sure, and this is an inherently subjective question. But the evidence of the Abramowitz model certainly doesn't suggest that Hillary Clinton ran an unusually poor campaign or that she was an unusually poor candidate. Maybe she was, but aside from cherry-picked anecdotes and free-floating Hillary animus, there's not really a lot to support this view.

I suppose this isn't a big surprise, but it sure is discouraging—especially after Donald Trump's disgusting "I'm not endorsing Le Pen, mind you, but she sure is great!" twaddle. The only good news is that Macron is a decent candidate and will almost certainly crush Marine "I promise we're not racists anymore" Le Pen.

Of course, that's what we thought about Hillary Clinton too, so....

By coincidence, right after my Comey post yesterday morning the New York Times published a long tick-tock about how and why Comey did what he did. It doesn't address the question of whether Comey tipped the election, it just provides an insider account of what was going through Comey's head as he made decisions during campaign season.

It makes for depressing reading. The reporters conclude pretty strongly that Comey wasn't driven by any conscious partisan motives. But even if that's true, there were pretty clearly partisan and personal influences at work. Apologies in advance for the length of this post, but putting all six of the following excerpts together in a single narrative is the only way to show what really happened. The story begins two years ago when the FBI opened its probe into Hillary Clinton's emails:

On July 10, 2015, the F.B.I. opened a criminal investigation, code-named “Midyear,” into Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified information....Everyone agreed that Mr. Comey should not reveal details about the Clinton investigation. But [attorney general Loretta Lynch] told him to be even more circumspect: Do not even call it an investigation, she said, according to three people who attended the meeting. Call it a “matter.”

....It was a by-the-book decision. But Mr. Comey and other F.B.I. officials regarded it as disingenuous in an investigation that was so widely known. And Mr. Comey was concerned that a Democratic attorney general was asking him to be misleading and line up his talking points with Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, according to people who spoke with him afterward.

This seems to have been the starting point. Even when Justice Department officials were making straightforward, "by-the-book" decisions, Comey was paranoid that they were acting to protect a Democrat—something that obviously might invite Republican attack if he went along. This belief continued to grow, and led to much of what happened later, when the investigation was wrapping up:

Early last year, F.B.I. agents received a batch of hacked documents, and one caught their attention. The document, which has been described as both a memo and an email, was written by a Democratic operative who expressed confidence that Ms. Lynch would keep the Clinton investigation from going too far, according to several former officials familiar with the document.

Read one way, it was standard Washington political chatter. Read another way, it suggested that a political operative might have insight into Ms. Lynch’s thinking.

Normally, when the F.B.I. recommends closing a case, the Justice Department agrees and nobody says anything....The document complicated that calculation, according to officials. If Ms. Lynch announced that the case was closed, and Russia leaked the document, Mr. Comey believed it would raise doubts about the independence of the investigation.

This email wasn't related to Lynch or her office in any way. It was just gossip from a third party. But instead of ignoring it, Comey worried that it might leak and hurt his own reputation. This also motivated his decision, when the investigation was over, to hold an unusual press conference which damaged Clinton seriously even though he cleared her of wrongdoing:

Standing in front of two American flags and two royal-blue F.B.I. flags, he read from a script....“Any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position” should have known better, Mr. Comey said. He called her “extremely careless.” The criticism was so blistering that it sounded as if he were recommending criminal charges. Only in the final two minutes did Mr. Comey say that “no charges are appropriate in this case.”

....By scolding Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Comey was speaking not only to voters but to his own agents. While they agreed that Mrs. Clinton should not face charges, many viewed her conduct as inexcusable. Mr. Comey’s remarks made clear that the F.B.I. did not approve.

Former agents and others close to Mr. Comey acknowledge that his reproach was also intended to insulate the F.B.I. from Republican criticism that it was too lenient toward a Democrat.

Again, Comey had failed to play it straight. Even though the decision to exonerate Clinton "was not even a close call," as he later said, he tore into Clinton in order to protect himself from criticism—both from Republicans and from his own agents. This is especially damning given the subsequent evidence that Comey's criticism of Clinton was wildly overstated. The same dynamic played out in reverse a couple of months later over the FBI investigation into Donald Trump and Russian interference in the election:

Mr. Comey and other senior administration officials met twice in the White House Situation Room in early October to again discuss a public statement about Russian meddling....At their second meeting, Mr. Comey argued that it would look too political for the F.B.I. to comment so close to the election, according to several people in attendance. Officials in the room felt whiplashed. Two months earlier, Mr. Comey had been willing to put his name on a newspaper article; now he was refusing to sign on to an official assessment of the intelligence community.

And it played out yet again in September, when agents discovered some Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop. Michael Steinbach, a former FBI agent who worked closely with Comey, explained what went through Comey's mind:

Agents felt they had two options: Tell Congress about the search, which everyone acknowledged would create a political furor, or keep it quiet, which followed policy and tradition but carried its own risk, especially if the F.B.I. found new evidence in the emails.

....Conservative news outlets had already branded Mr. Comey a Clinton toady. That same week, the cover of National Review featured a story on “James Comey’s Dereliction,” and a cartoon of a hapless Mr. Comey shrugging as Mrs. Clinton smashed her laptop with a sledgehammer.

Congressional Republicans were preparing for years of hearings during a Clinton presidency. If Mr. Comey became the subject of those hearings, F.B.I. officials feared, it would hobble the agency and harm its reputation. “I don’t think the organization would have survived that,” Mr. Steinbach said.

Once again, the primary concern was protecting Comey and the FBI. Republicans had made it clear that their retribution against anyone who helped Clinton would be relentless, and that clearly had an impact on Comey. Steinbach's suggestion that Republican vengeance would have destroyed the FBI is clearly nuts, but Comey was taking no chances. He didn't want the grief.

Even after it was all over, Comey's partisan influences continued to work on him:

Officials and others close to him also acknowledge that Mr. Comey has been changed by the tumultuous year.

Early on Saturday, March 4, the president accused Mr. Obama on Twitter of illegally wiretapping Trump Tower in Manhattan. Mr. Comey believed the government should forcefully denounce that claim. But this time he took a different approach. He asked the Justice Department to correct the record. When officials there refused, Mr. Comey followed orders and said nothing publicly.

Daniel Richman, a longtime friend of Comey’s, said this represented "a consistent pattern of someone trying to act with independence and integrity, but within established channels."

The evidence does indeed show consistent behavior, but of a different kind. At every step of the way, Comey demonstrated either his fear of crossing Republicans or his concern over protecting his own reputation from Republican attack. It was the perfect intersection of a Republican Party that had developed a reputation for conducting relentlessly vicious smear campaigns and a Republican FBI director who didn't have the fortitude to stand up to it. Comey may genuinely believe that his decisions along the way were nonpartisan, but the evidence pretty strongly suggests otherwise.

I have frequently made the case that Donald Trump is president because of FBI director James Comey. On October 28, Comey wrote a letter to Congress telling them that the FBI was investigating a new cache of Clinton emails that it found on the laptop of Huma Abedin's estranged husband, Anthony Weiner. That was the turning point. Clinton's electoral fortunes went downhill from there and never recovered.

As shocking as this may sound, not everyone agrees with me. A new book, Shattered, makes the case that Clinton was an epically bad candidate and her campaign was epically badly run. That's why she lost. Yesterday, Shadi Hamid took aim at me for my continued Comey obsession in the face of the story told in Shattered:

Let's talk. There's a reason I blame Comey, and it's not because I live in a bubble. It's because a massive amount of evidence points that way. Today I want to put the whole case in one l-o-o-o-o-ng post so everyone understands why I think Comey was the deciding factor in the election. If you still disagree, that's fine, but this is the evidence you need to argue with.

NOTE: I want to make clear that I'm talking solely about Hillary Clinton and the presidency here. Democrats have been badly pummeled at the state level over the past six years, and that obviously has nothing to do with Comey. It's something that Democrats need to do some soul searching about.

Ready? Let's start with some throat-clearing.

First: Keep in mind that Clinton was running for a third Democratic term during a period when (a) the economy was OK but not great and (b) Barack Obama's popularity was OK but not great. Models based on fundamentals therefore rated the election as something of a tossup. Clinton was not running as a sure winner.

Second: For the sake of argument, let's assume that Hillary Clinton was an epically bad, unpopular candidate who ran a terrible campaign. She foolishly used a private email server while she was Secretary of State. She gave millions of dollars in speeches after leaving the State Department. She was a boring speaker with a mushy agenda. She was a hawkish Wall Street shill who failed to appeal to millennials. She lost the support of the white working class. Her campaign was a cespool of ego, power-mongering, and bad strategy. Let's just assume all that.

If this is true, it was true for the entire year. Maybe longer. And yet, despite this epic horribleness, Clinton held a solid, steady lead over Trump the entire time. The only exception was a brief dip in July when Comey held his first presser to call Clinton "extremely careless" in her handling of emails. Whatever else you can say about Hillary Clinton, everyone knew about her speeches and her emails and her centrism and everything else all along. And yet, the public still preferred her by a steady 3-7 percentage points over Trump for the entire year.

Third: Every campaign has problems. If you win, they get swept under the rug. If you lose, bitter staffers bend the ears of anyone who will listen about the campaign's unprecedented dysfunction and poor strategy. This is all normal. Both the Clinton and Trump campaigns had all the usual problems, and in a close election you can blame any of them for a loss. But two things set the Comey letter apart. First, it had a big effect right at the end of the race. Second, it was decidedly not a normal thing. It came out of the blue for no good reason from the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. There is nothing Clinton could have done about it.

With that out of the way, let's take a look at the Clinton campaign. All of the poll estimates look similar, but I'm going to use Sam Wang's EV estimator because it gives a pretty sharp day-to-day look at the race. (Wang's final estimate was wrong, of course, like pretty much everyone else's, but don't worry about that. What we're interested in is the ups and downs.) First off, here are his daily estimates through the end of August:

With the brief exception of the July Comey presser, the race was amazingly stable. During the entire year, Clinton has a formidable lead that translates into 330-340 electoral votes. Now let's pick up the story in September:

At the beginning of September, Clinton slumps following her "deplorables" comment and her stumble at the 9/11 memorial. After Trump's shockingly bad performance at the first debate she starts to regain ground, and continues to gain ground when the Access Hollywood tape is released. By the end of October she's back to where she started, with a big lead over Trump. THIS IS IMPORTANT: despite everything — weak fundamentals, the "deplorables" comment, her personal unpopularity, her mushy centrism, her allegedly terrible campaign — by the end of October she's well ahead of Trump, just as she had been all year. It's clear that 330-340 electoral votes is her baseline level of support.

On October 25, HHS announces that Obamacare premiums will go up substantially in the following year. This doesn't appear to have any effect. Then, on October 28, Comey releases his letter. Clinton's support plummets immediately, and there's no time for it to recover. On November 8, Trump is elected president.

But how much did Comey's letter cost Clinton? Let's review the voluminous evidence:

I'm not sure how much clearer the evidence could be. Basically, Hillary Clinton was doing fine until October 28. Then the Comey letter cost her 2-4 percent of the popular vote. Without Comey she would have won comfortably — possibly by a landslide — even though the fundamentals predicted a close race.

That's it. That's the evidence. If you disagree that Comey was decisive, you need to account for two things. First, if the problem was something intrinsic to Clinton or her campaign, why was she so far ahead of Trump for the entire race? Second, if Comey wasn't at fault, what plausibly accounts for Clinton's huge and sudden change in fortune starting precisely on October 28?

One way or another, it appears that all the things that were under Hillary Clinton's control were handled fairly well. They produced a steady lead throughout the campaign. The Comey letter exists on an entirely different plane. It was an unprecedented breach of protocol from the FBI; it was completely out of Clinton's control; and it had a tremendous impact. That's why I blame James Comey for Donald Trump's victory.

UPDATE: I've added a chart showing Clinton's level of support from May through August.

1The second letter was the one that cleared her. However, merely by keeping the subject in the news, it hurt Clinton.