The right-wing media has a new fake Hillary Clinton scandal
Imagine that, like Rip Van Winkle, you fell asleep two years ago and have just now awakened. It's less than four weeks until the election. Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee. You know the right excels at spinning up its calliope of character assassination to disqualify Democrats. And, so, you expect that by now Biden is lying in a bloodied heap.
You turn on Fox News to see how President Donald Trump and his conservative media allies are tearing Biden to shreds. And you see such headlines as this: "(John) Brennan's handwritten notes discuss briefing Obama on Hillary's plot to tie Trump to Russia."
That's right: It's 27 days until the election, Biden leads in many polls by double digits, and Trump and his allies are focusing their fire on — Hillary Clinton.
The fake scandal they're now trying to gin up involves yet another appalling abuse of power by the Trump administration. But the fact that they're doing it now shows something else: Their remarkable failure to get people to hate Biden.
If you're a resident of the right-wing media bubble, you've been told of late that the thing you should be angry about right now is a convoluted story about 2016, the latest attempt to prove that no one should have ever been concerned at all about Russia's interference in our election and the Trump campaign's enthusiastic cooperation with it.
This time it involves a Russian intelligence assessment from that year, in which the Kremlin judged that Clinton was trying to get the American public to believe that Trump and Russia were in cahoots. Which of course she was; Clinton talked often in public about how Trump would be Vladimir Putin's "puppet." And for good reason: They were indeed in cahoots, at least in their shambling, incompetent way, whether you think it rose to the level of a criminal conspiracy or not.
To believe that this constitutes some sort of new scandal or proves that the FBI should never have investigated the Russian attack on American democracy, you'd have to be a Russian agent or a blithering idiot.
But last week, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified this Russian report, so vital was it that it be made public right away. Why? You'll recall that Ratcliffe's nomination to the position overseeing all of America's intelligence agencies was controversial because the former congressman was a notorious partisan hack with almost no intelligence experience. Now he's turning his own office — like pretty much every arm of the federal government — into a subsidiary of the Trump campaign.
They now want us to believe that the Russia scandal — all the contacts between Trump officials and Russians, the hacking of Democratic emails, the coordination with Wikileaks, all of it — was invented by Hillary Clinton.
This is simultaneously a dangerous abuse of authority and a pathetic and doomed attempt to salvage Trump's reelection bid.
The attack on Clinton is substantively ludicrous. But as a means of getting Trump reelected — and make no mistake, everything Republicans do right now is to achieve that end — it's positively bonkers. As hard as it is to believe, they seem to actually be sitting around in Trump campaign headquarters saying, "Once we get everyone focused on Hillary, the election will be in the bag!"
More than anything else, this is a remarkable tribute to Biden. They've been unable to get Americans to hate him, the way they did with other Democrats. So, in their desperation to keep their base in a state of rage, they reach back to Clinton.
I'll admit that throughout the primaries, I had little faith in Biden's ability to be an effective presidential candidate. He had run for president twice before, and both times he flamed out disastrously. He was too old, too undisciplined, not the kind of candidate anyone could get excited about. He seemed to almost stumble his way to nomination. Yet Biden has proved nearly impervious to Republican attacks.
To Trump himself, the folks at Fox, and their viewers, going back to Clinton is kind of like sitting around talking about the championship the local football team won a few years back, revisiting the glory days even while this year's squad has a 3-7 record and their quarterback is on the disabled list.
It might make them feel better for a while. But before long, they'll have to come back to reality.
Paul Waldman is an op-ed columnist and senior writer for The American Prospect.