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Hillary Clinton conspiracy theories are a generation in the making

Clinton’s supporters aren’t ‘sore losers,’ and Donald Trump’s way of working isn’t normal. The far right has spent years building opposition to her


Jill Abramson; The Guardian  December 6, 2016

Since Trump won the election, the focus on his fringe connections has largely receded. Coverage of the new administration has quickly normalized. Washington reporters seem relieved to be covering a familiar ritual, the competition for top jobs in the Trump administration. Stories on Trump’s many conflicts of interest and abandoned promises have appeared, but none seem to resonate with the public.

Thankfully, some events shake us out of our complacency. At Harvard last week, a bitter fight broke out between senior Trump and Clinton aides who appeared at a conference, held after every presidential election. The hundred or so student protesters standing outside with signs denouncing Donald Trump and his consigliere, Steve Bannon, indicated a different tone for this year’s confab. What set off the fireworks were comments praising Bannon, who did not attend, from David Bossie, Trump’s deputy campaign manager.

Bossie’s encomium pushed Jennifer Palmieri, Hillary Clinton’s communications director, over the edge. She responded: “If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am glad to have lost.”

Palmieri is not wrong. Breitbart News, a rabidly right-wing news site, was described by Bannon as providing a platform for the “alt-right”, a far-right movement in the US. Some of the movement’s leaders, like Richard Spencer, have publicly used Nazi slogans and are openly white nationalists. It is important not to forget that.

Because the news media has been shamed for having all but inaugurated Hillary Clinton, there has now been an avalanche of coverage about how Trump pulled off his surprise victory and the weaknesses of her campaign.

This means that another important question has been under-covered: who killed Hillary Clinton? Kellyanne Conway’s answer at Harvard was simple: Hillary Clinton, with her lack of an economic message for the white working class and her inability to connect with people, killed herself. This is simply false.

As in any good Agatha Christie mystery, there are so many suspects that it’s hard to find the real killer. But here are some obvious possibilities:

The man who did not find Hillary crooked, FBI Director James Comey, is a chief suspect. First, though it is unusual and arguably unprofessional, Comey decided not to prosecute Clinton but publicly denounced her as reckless and careless in the treatment of the emails on her private server. In cases where no charges are pressed, the usual protocol is simply to announce that an investigation is closed.

Then, 11 days before the election, he wrote a letter to Congress saying new emails found on her aide’s computer merited more review, completely stalling the momentum that seemed to be carrying Clinton to victory. Those who seek to minimize the Comey effect should keep in mind that exit polls show that one quarter of the electorate made up their minds in the last month before the election and went for Trump by eight points, much larger than his less-than-50% victory margin of the popular vote.

The email “scandal” was overblown and disproportionately covered by the news media, magnifying the damage Comey did. The news networks dedicated more airtime to the emails than to all policy issues combined. Indeed, Comey seemed to use the media’s obsession to intervene for his apparently preferred candidate, Trump.

Trump’s conflicts of interest: a visual guide

Let’s return to David Bossie, the man who sparked the Harvard “cat-fight.” After Bill Clinton won the presidency, Bossie became one of the biggest floggers of the pseudo scandals that enveloped Bill and Hillary while they were in the White House. In 2008, his anti-Hillary “documentary” sparked the Citizens United case in the US supreme court that gutted the country’s campaign finance laws. Before joining the Trump campaign as Bannon’s deputy, Bossie was head of Citizens United. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post, who has covered Bossie for as long as I have, calls him “The Captain Ahab of Clinton-haters.” At long last, he killed the whale.

Bossie, of course, couldn’t kill alone. He had a band of co-conspirators from an anti-Clinton machine that has been fortified by hundreds of millions of dollars of dark money over the past generation. As First Lady, Clinton was ridiculed and vilified for calling this “a vast right-wing conspiracy,” but she was right.

The activists, groups, think tanks and nonprofit “charities” that made hay over the petty controversies that dogged her had already succeeded in driving up her negative trust and honesty numbers well before the 2016 campaign. The garden was already planted; all Donald Trump needed to do is water it with his chants of “Crooked Hillary.”

Clinton actually received the third highest vote total in US election history (only Barack Obama won more the two times he was elected), and she won the popular vote by 2.5 million, a big margin. Still she lost in the electoral college, but if 100,000 votes had gone the other way in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, she would have won there, too.

It is too easy to write off Clinton supporters who oppose Trump, like Jennifer Palmieri, as sore losers. We all have a right – and a duty – to call out misinformation and divisive tactics from Trump and his enablers at places like Breitbart. Much is at stake if Trump and his brand of politics is normalized. It’s up to all of us to prevent that from happening.

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