The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy Sits Out the First Round of Clinton's Troubles

The New York Times and other mainstream outlets lead the way on reporting on Hillary Clinton's e-mail practices. How do you think that makes the real right wing writers feel?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: (L-R) Former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attend the opening ceremony for the National September 11 Memorial Museum at ground zero May 15, 2014 in New York City. The museum spans seven stories, mostly underground, and contains artifacts from the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001 that include the 80 ft high tridents, the so-called "Ground Zero Cross," the destroyed remains of Company 21's New York Fire Department Engine as well as smaller items such as letter that fell from a hijacked plane and posters of missing loved ones projected onto the wall of the museum. The museum will open to the public on May 21.

Photographer: Getty Images

Here’s an experiment: Approach a member of the Democratic Party and mention Hillary Clinton’s private e-mails. Odds are excellent that the next words you hear will include the phrase “Republican attack machine,” or just “Republican attacks,” for short.

When, you may ask, did mainstream outlets qualify for inclusion in those ranks? The New York Times broke the story about her exclusive use of a private e-mail address as secretary of state. The Associated Press is considering legal action over never fulfilled Freedom of Information Act requests during Clinton's time as secretary of state. Bloomberg News has been all over the national security implications.

And how do you think that makes the real right-wing writers feel?

“They’re giving us too much credit,’’ said Matt Lewis, a columnist for the conservative Daily Caller. In fact, he said mock-glumly, “it’s an indictment of the Republican attack machine that they had nothing to do with it." But then, he reasoned, reporting from the right—as opposed to opinion-writing—“is still in its infancy. Let’s hope that some day the vast right-wing conspiracy has the resources" to score more scoops.

Meanwhile, alas, when somebody tracked her down and stuck a microphone in her direction, it was some guy from TMZ, whose question didn’t make a lick of sense. (“How you doin' Hillary? Hillary, with the blunder on the e-mails? Was that just a generalization gap or can that be corrected?” In fairness, this was a celebrity photographer giving it a go, not Claude Lanzmann on the trail of a Nazi guard. Had she turned to the photographer, paused for comic effect and let loose with a belly laugh, it wouldn't have ended the matter, but would have launched campaign ads on both sides.)

There’s some danger for conservative media where Clinton and her e-mails are concerned, even in following stories broken in the dreaded MSM, Lewis said: “We could go too far and undermine all the good work of the mainstream media. The most obvious example would be to make this all about Benghazi, and then it would be easier to dismiss.”

But the specter of what Hillary Clinton once referred to as the “vast right-wing conspiracy” has without question helped the Clintons fend off criticism over the years; yes, there has been an anti-Clinton industry, but an anti- anti- Clinton industry, too, to the point that some supporters reflexively dismiss any concerns about her as the probable work of the same crew that back in the day regularly inferred that the Clintons were murderers.

These days, though, I hear as much vitriol from the left as the right. And some conservative writers are just not living up to the hype when it comes to their Clinton-hating.

“I’m sure there are people who froth” at the mouth at the mention of the Clintons, “but they’re not friends of mine,” said Matthew Continetti, editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website that has broken news about Hillary Clinton scored from the archives at the University of Arkansas.

Mark Salter, author and longtime aide to Senator John McCain, doesn’t even seem to have completely ruled out voting for her, should his own party’s choice disappoint him: His view of her changed, he said, “after she came to the Senate, where she was very shrewd and effective in forming friendships across the aisle. I wasn't a big fan before then. But I came to like her, and I still do. She has ability and charm. I've been told she's good company to travel with, too. I also thought she was probably a voice for reason inside administration national security debates. I won't vote for her unless we do something really stupid in choosing our nominee. But I wouldn't worry as much as I currently do about US leadership in the world if she were president.’’

On the e-mail front, he’s mainly “surprised she would do something that would so obviously reinforce a major negative,’’ but is also reminded of the ghosts of errors past: “I've seen that kind of mystifying obtuseness in other politicians. Look at Mitt Romney getting a Swiss bank account before the 2012 race. Did he have some Nazi gold he needed to stash somewhere?” 

And the fact is, Salter’s not the only conservative who’s softened on HRC over the decades:

"I'm just old enough to be sort of exhausted by the whole thing,'' says Mollie Hemingway, who writes for the Federalist and decries the "petty" nature of Clinton scandals: "Oh, I lost the documents! Oh, I found them again!"

“Conservatives were much more frightened of her in the 90s,’’ says Lewis. But then, after leaving the White House, she went on to serve “pretty well” in the Senate, and at this point, “she’s been around so long it’s hard to maintain that level of anger; she hasn’t brought the end of the world yet.”

Ed Morrissey, of the conservative site, laughs at the idea that the conservative media is any less fragmented and feuding than the mainstream media: “We do a lot more bitching about each other than coordinating.”

While he admits to having softened on one of the Clintons, it isn’t Hillary, whom he sees as having accomplished little in her important jobs, quite unlike her husband: “I left the '90s behind and grew to have grudging admiration for Bill; he got things done by co-opting his opponents’ agenda and taking significant credit.” Watching Barack Obama in action, he said, “made me appreciate Bill Clinton even more.”

What Hillary Clinton backers ought to worry about isn't what manner of murder allegation the successors of Richard Mellon Scaife are going to come up with, but whether their candidate is going to come across like someone who knows why she’s running.

While the “attack machine” is a useful foil, at some point Democrats have to note that, as Mollie Hemingway put it, “to have only David Brock defending you in the media is not a great place to be." And that the “Republican attack machine” is, at least for now, the least of their concerns.

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