It is quickly becoming clear that the secret Republican plan to survive the 2018 midterm elections is to run against Hillary Clinton again. Calls for a new investigation of Clinton's use of a private email server are completing their long journey from the diseased mind of the president through the Hannity/Carlson ideas-laundering machine and into mainstream conservative discourse. Republican leaders terrified of defending their reprehensible conduct over the past year to voters see a renewed focus on Clinton, who remains deeply unpopular, as their only way to avoid coughing up one or both chambers of Congress in November.
Republicans are right to feel creeping panic about their prospects. President Trump spent the last week ineptly defending his own sanity after a gossipy writer he weirdly allowed to hang out around the White House for months published excerpts of his new book, in which the president's own advisers describe him as a sub-literate, cheeseburger-gobbling troll who spends most of his rare days at work watching and tweeting about Fox News.
The only tangible policy achievement of this Congress — a slapdash tax giveaway to the wealthy that disproportionately benefits the Trump family, corporate grifters, and people with too much money already — is 24 points underwater in polls. Republicans trail by double digits in most surveys of the midterm elections and have no discernible policy agenda for the year. No one knows what fresh revelations are in store from the Mueller investigation, which may find that the president of the United States and his top associates obstructed justice. Mind you: That currently seems like the best-case scenario for the president even if he and all of his aides are ultimately cleared of conspiring with Russia to undermine the 2016 election.
Hence: Hillary Clinton. GOP leaders are gambling that a go-nowhere investigation of the 2016 popular vote winner will help diminish the focus on President Trump's misdeeds and give reporters a tidy, both-sides analytic frame to explain away perfidy in Washington. These stories are being relentlessly hammered in the right-wing media to provoke new investigations and media attention, despite former FBI Director James Comey having publicly cleared Clinton in July 2016 after an exhaustive inquiry.
Case in point: In National Review on Saturday, Andrew McCarthy argued that the only way to restore the rule of law for classified information is to prosecute Clinton and her aides. In 2,100 words McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney, was unable to produce a single identifiable harm from Clinton's use of a private email server. The lurid and ludicrous allegation at the top of the article — that Clinton used her position as secretary of state to funnel donations to the Clinton Foundation— likewise manages to survive the entire attack without being buttressed with actual evidence except a link back to a piece of McCarthy's own election-eve hysteria. In that article, McCarthy claims that Clinton was running a racketeering operation out of Foggy Bottom and that she should be the subject of a RICO investigation. Why Clinton would jeopardize her life's work to funnel money to a charity whose financial dealings are an open book is a question that seemingly has not occurred to McCarthy and his fellow inquisitors.
But it seems to be working. Whether they are serious or are just going through the motions to satisfy the president, the FBI is looking into fever-swamp pay-to-play allegations about the Clinton Foundation, despite the probe being dropped by career prosecutors prior to the election. Prosecutors at DOJ are pestering the FBI over the Uranium One non-story. House Republicans on the judiciary and oversight committees opened an investigation into the FBI's handling of the Clinton email probe in October. And executives from Fusion GPS — the D.C. outfit that commissioned the so-called Steele Dossier — were called to testify before the House intelligence panel, which also successfully subpoenaed the firm's bank records, all part of the far-right's absurd counter-narrative that it was in fact the Clinton campaign, and not the president's, that colluded with Russia to undermine the election.
These investigations might also help clarify to certain people on the left why Hillary Clinton felt the need to give big-dollar speeches after stepping down as secretary of state — with leading thinkers and politicians on the right still calling for her to be "locked up," she is obviously going to have to pay lawyers to defend her from Republican inquisitions until the day she dies.
The GOP's monomania to investigate things that mostly happened nine years ago and that have caused precisely zero harm to anyone anywhere on the planet prove once again that the party's core value today is bad faith. When Barack Obama was elected, conservatives howled about the very idea of investigating the Bush administration's dishonest case for war in Iraq or its illegal use of torture. Here's McCarthy himself complaining about a 2014 Senate report on the Bush administration's use of torture: "The CIA's interrogation program happened over a decade ago." Here's McCarthy accusing Obama and Eric Holder of "conducting a witch hunt against Bush administration officials" for investigating the controversial 2002 "torture memo" written by John Yoo and others, something that, unlike Clinton's email server, caused real harm to human beings, America's standing in the world, and its efforts to combat terrorism.
Conservatives like McCarthy know full well that an investigation into Clinton, or an investigation-of-the-investigation of Clinton or whatever it is exactly that these dollar store Robespierres are cooking up, is going to lead to the same place as the umpteen other ginned-up rabbit hunts of Clintonworld: nowhere. No reputable journalist who has so much as sniffed around the various faux scandal ingredients that make up the Clinton hysteria stew — Uranium One, the Clinton Foundation, Fusion GPS — has found anything worth pursuing, even though leading media outlets worked directly with Stephen Bannon to peddle conspiracy theories to the public. Like the endless Benghazi investigations conducted by the House, these new pseudo-investigations will likely make a lot of noise but find nothing and die a quiet death sometime after November.
More importantly for the GOP, none of this is going to help them at the ballot box. By November, with another year of President Trump's rancid antics and Vichy Republican cover-ups in the books, no one is going to turn out to vote against a retired presidential candidate who is not on the ballot, no matter how much they dislike her. They know that wasting money on more Clinton investigations is a pointless distraction from both the pressing problems facing the nation and the much more plausible crimes involving the president. And when Republican leaders turn their gavels and their power over to Chuck and Nancy next January, they might finally learn that enough is enough.