Monitoring the increasingly unraveled response to Tuesday’s news that Hillary Clinton likely won’t face any criminal charges in connection to her use of private email while secretary of state, did anybody else experience a flashback to Election Night, 2012? That’s when conservatives, as personified by Fox News commentator Karl Rove, seemed unable to grasp the idea that President Obama was going to win reelection, and win easily.
Having become so comfortably ensconced inside their right-wing media bubble, where predictions of a Mitt Romney landslide victory were the norm, the echo chamber for partisans like Rove became so impenetrable they even tried to fight stubborn electoral math as the ballots were counted in 2012.
After being told for four years that Obama was a traitorous figure determined to weaken America, there was a communal certitude among Fox viewers and commentators that the president would be voted out of office.
We now seem to be witnessing the same type of collective meltdown in the wake of the email investigation news. But this time there’s no sign the slow-motion madness will be contained. Unlike the 2012 election, where conservatives were forced to face the mathematical truth of Obama’s victory, and when the Republican Party temporarily set out to try to fix what went wrong for their candidate (see the GOP’s so-called autopsy report), there’s no early indication that that kind of minimal GOP reality check is in the works any time soon.
Instead, with the Republican Party’s nominee feeding off wild conspiratorial claims from the conservative media about a vast, government-wide cover-up to protect Hillary Clinton, the flames of paranoia are being fanned even higher. Now we’re told it’s a cover-up supposedly engineered by the Republican head of the FBI. Meaning, the guardrails have clearly been taken down. It’s anything goes, including the suggestion that a future President Trump could still prosecute Clinton. (For the record, many legal and security experts long ago predicted Clinton wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, face criminal charges stemming from this case.)
And that’s why distraught Republicans are now set to haul FBI Director James Comey up to Capitol Hill tomorrow and force him to explain why he didn’t recommend that Hillary Clinton be indicted. (This is the same GOP that refuses to grant Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, the courtesy of hearings.) That’s the FBI chief who was appointed deputy attorney general by President George W. Bush, has donated to Republican candidates, and who, up until yesterday, was routinely and often extravagantly praised in the conservative press as a Clark Kent-like figure of impeachable integrity:
*Rush Limbaugh, April 12: “James Comey … really is a guy with impeccable integrity."
*Bill O'Reilly, March 2: “I believe an honest investigation is being done by the FBI.”
Why the whiplash turn of events? If you’ve been following the conservative media talking points for the unfolding investigation in recent months, you know the presented storyline went like this: Comey is a straight shooter and so are FBI agents investigating Clinton. They’re going to find the real dirt on the presumptive Democratic nominee, but then political appointees at Obama’s Department of Justice are somehow going to thwart the FBI’s hard work and cover up any crime she committed.
In other words, Comey was being groomed as the Good Guy and Attorney General Loretta Lynch was being groomed as the Villain.
But yesterday, Comey confounded that storyline when he announced that the FBI concluded that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Clinton or anyone else associated with her regarding the emails.
So instead of accepting reality (never!), partisans scrambled the jets and are trying to spin Comey’s findings. Fox News and friends instantly turned on the Republican FBI director and insisted the amorphous “fix” was in from the get-go; that the FBI, and DOJ and the White House were all in on the cover-up to protect Clinton. And apparently that’s the topic that will be explored in a Republican-sponsored hearing on the Hill: Why did the FBI investigation not produce the results that Republicans wanted?
How did the GOP end up in this “scandal” dead-end? Fox News led Republicans into the alley, of course.
As I noted last summer as email fever swept across the fever swamps, “night after night, day after day, a rotating carousel of partisans who attack Democrats for a living have been invited onto Fox to invent a laundry list of claims and excitedly predict all the awful things that await Clinton and her surely doomed campaign.”
There really was no half-baked allegation about Clinton criminality that was considered off limits to the viewers of Fox News. Convinced that her use of a personal email account and server easily surpassed the widespread lawbreaking of Richard Nixon’s Watergate run, Fox News hyped the criminal danger supposedly facing the Democrat.
None of that was ever remotely related to the truth. So now the right-wing media and Republicans are demanding the FBI director explain to them why their fantasy version of the email “scandal” doesn’t match his factual one.