On Thursday, the Washington Post tweeted:
— Post Politics (@postpolitics) November 3, 2016
The link didn’t work, which was somehow appropriate. It’s fair to say the media haven’t cared terribly much about issues this cycle, even as the candidates offer strikingly different visions about foreign policy, immigration policy, and legal philosophies. Neither candidate is particularly good at discussing policy, and the media haven’t really pushed them to. But for a status quo candidate such as Hillary Clinton, issues are less important to focus on than for Donald Trump.
Ever since Trump entered the presidential race by riding down an escalator with his superhot model wife, his campaign has been unconventional. Thanks to a series of bizarre circumstances, he vanquished all of his many primary opponents using a combination of conspiracy theories, insults, and claims that voting systems were rigged against him.
What’s interesting about the last month is how much the Clinton campaign has morphed into the Trump campaign in those categories. Check it out.
1) Claiming The System Is Rigged
The last presidential debate was far and away the best and offered the most substantive look at the policy differences between the two candidates. Moderator Chris Wallace generally kept focused on issues more than tangents, with a few exceptions. One exception was a somewhat overwrought series of questions about whether Trump, who is always talking about rigged systems, would accept the results of the election. He said he’d wait to see how things went.
Perhaps in part because Trump performed better than Clinton, the media made major hay over this, with the headlines and non-stop cable shows touting this as a major problem.
But after FBI Director James Comey told Congress that he’d reopened the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information via a secret server, Clinton operatives began claiming, well, that the system was rigged.
Harry Reid said that Comey had violated the Hatch Act by doing his job. Clinton surrogates said that it was an attempt to “hijack” the election. Some are calling it a “coup.” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman said that “America is perilously close to a failed state.”
— The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic) November 2, 2016
For a more sober take, try this from a Clinton-supporting media figure (but I repeat myself):
"Worse Than Watergate" indeed. The Comey/Chaffetz/Trump "Reopen" lie is as bad as any assault on out free elections pic.twitter.com/yOOvnKC54T
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) October 31, 2016
2) Floating Conspiracy Theories
Trump has an attraction to stories that are exaggerated, thinly sourced, or outright conspiracy theories. Everything from his long-standing birtherism regarding President Obama’s country of origin to his claim that Ted Cruz’s dad was somehow involved in the assassination of JFK. It’s downright ridiculous.
In just the last week alone, in response to the very bad news about Hillary Clinton being investigated by the FBI, her campaign placed conspiracy theory stories at friendly outlets and with friendly reporters and then promoted the heck out of them on the trail. One was that Trump had a double-secret server set up to communicate with a Russian bank. He doesn’t. Even The New York Times debunked it.
Clintonistas and media allies pushed stories about orgies and rape. Some pushed the false story that the FBI was leaking documents about Vince Foster as an attack on Clinton. In fact, they’d been released long ago. Even Laurence Tribe was getting into the act, pushing a conspiracy theory that Trump had somehow corrupted the FBI itself. Some said that investigating Clinton’s mishandling of classified information was “the worst thing the FBI has ever done.”
John Schindler wrote a piece noting that the Kremlin really is trying to affect the election but that the embrace of Red Scare conspiracy theorizing was harmful to the cause of fighting it:
All the same, none of that justifies the degree of hysteria that’s currently emanating from Democratic circles about Russia. Practically every day the Clinton campaign proffers new charges of alleged Kremlin malfeasance, usually involving Trump or his entourage. Evidence is hard to come by, however, and the Democrats have thrown caution to the wind in a manner that ought to trouble all Americans.
Even after the debunkings of the conspiracy theories, the Clinton campaign was still pushing them.
The Clinton camp is continuing to peddle the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory, despite FBI's finding of no link. https://t.co/KsI3v60qZa
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) November 2, 2016
Much attention has been paid to Trump’s many insults but far less attention has been paid to how much Hillary Clinton has insulted Trump. A major component of her last days of campaigning is to focus not on policy differences with Donald Trump but on Alicia Machado.
Anyone who watched game seven of the World Series endured repeated viewings of an obscene ad that insulted Trump for his treatment of women (a somewhat odd approach for a woman who has enabled and at times participated in her husband’s maltreatment of women). She has called his supporters deplorable and irredeemable. When an anti-Clinton protester disparaged her husband as a rapist, she said, “I am sick and tired of the negative, dark, divisive, dangerous vision and the anger of people who support Donald Trump.”
Michelle Obama’s line about “when they go low, we go high,” has been completely thrown out the window as President Obama himself has disparaged his own FBI while campaigning for Hillary Clinton. That prompted strong language from his predecessor’s press secretary Ari Fleischer:
If Bush said about an ongoing FBI investigation what Obama said, the press would kill, persecute, attack, defame & ruin him. Doublestandard.
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) November 3, 2016
Clinton-allied media said that Republicans who say (correctly) that the FBI reopened an investigation into Hillary Clinton are “liars.”
The major difference in the Clinton campaign embracing conspiracy theories, devolving into insults, and claiming the election is rigged and the Trump campaign doing the same is the media reaction.
The two candidates are some of the worst moral characters we’ve seen operating at this level. Which is saying something. They’re both secretive, manipulative, and corrupt. What’s fascinating is that the media only finds one of them to be. When Trump holds a press conference with a woman who says Bill Clinton raped her, the media reaction is skeptical to hostile. When Team Clinton pushes a press conference about a Trump rape so dramatically unverifiable it’s ridiculous, the media rush to cover it.
Trump insults merit two pages of treatment in The New York Times. Clinton’s insults are explained away. Trump’s conspiracy theories are derided. Clinton’s conspiracy theories are indulged. Trump’s claims of election rigging are reacted to with abject horror and histrionics. Clinton’s are part and parcel with the news cycle, pushed and promoted by the very papers and media outlets that decried his comments not two weeks prior.