The word of last weekend was "protocol."
In deciding to tell Congress about a new trove of emails that may or may not contain classified information and may or may not relate to Hillary Clinton, FBI Director James Comey broke Justice Department protocol both by releasing information close to an election and by revealing details of an ongoing investigation.
It was a "stunning breach of protocol," former Attorney General Eric Holder dutifully insisted. Tim Kaine invoked protocol more than a half-dozen times Sunday in his interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "It is just extremely puzzling," the Democratic vice presidential nominee said. "Why would you break these two protocols?"
"Puzzled" was the runner-up word of the weekend; Mr. Kaine used it repeatedly, as did Ms. Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook. "We are so puzzled right now," Mr. Mook told NBC's Chuck Todd.
Well, let's try to solve this riddle. Mr. Comey's regrettable decision is much easier to understand once you realize it is one small piece of the larger puzzle. He made a bad choice — though probably the least bad choice of those available to him — precisely because all of the relevant actors in this sordid mess have been breaking protocol for years.
Ms. Clinton broke all kinds of protocol by setting up her stealth server and then lying about it not only in public but also, I would argue, to Congress. She broke protocol when her aides smashed phones with a hammer and erased emails — official government records — after they were subject to a congressional subpoena.
Bill Clinton broke protocol when he met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch in secret while his wife was still under investigation by the FBI. Ms. Lynch, smarting from her breach of protocol with the former president, widened the breach by refusing to recuse herself and investing instead in the FBI director the authority to decide whether or not to prosecute Hillary Clinton.
President Barack Obama broke protocol when he told "60 Minutes" that Ms. Clinton — with whom he had corresponded over an unsecure email channel — did nothing to endanger national security long before the investigation was even concluded.
And, of course, the Democratic Party broke not a formal protocol but one hell of a rule of thumb by nominating a woman who carries more baggage than the cargo hold of the Queen Mary.
"There is a very good argument — I would say, an irrefutable argument — that Comey should never have pronounced that the Clinton emails investigation was closed (in fact, it would have been appropriate if he had made no public statement about the investigation at all)," Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, writes in National Review. "But having made that pronouncement — which, again, Mrs. Clinton was thankful to have and which she has ceaselessly exploited — he was obliged by law-enforcement principles to amend it when it was no longer true."
And that gets to the heart of it. Mr. Comey by his own hand, as well as with the encouragement of the Obama administration, the media and the Clinton Industrial Complex, found himself perched atop an enormous mountain of crap. Any effort to get off the fetid summit was bound to leave him soiled.
That is what Clintons do. They do not care about the breach of protocol, only the reach of protocol. Everyone should be sticklers for the rules, except the Clintons and their henchmen. That was the story of the Bill Clinton administration, from the firing of the White House travel office through the numerous money-raising scandals, the impeachment drama and the president's disastrous last-minute pardons.
They force their allies to sell off bits and pieces of their credibility defending the indefensible, while insisting their critics are the only ones with bad motives. Already, the word has gone forth that Mr. Comey's reputation must be destroyed to protect what's left of Ms. Clinton's, even though she is the author of her own travails.
We knew it was coming when Ms. Clinton said Friday night that Mr. Comey sent his letter to the "Republican members of the House." That was a distortion. He sent it to the relevant chairs, plus the relevant ranking Democrats. But that is standard protocol in Clinton world: Destroy the messenger.
Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JonahNRO.