By Peter Daou and Tom Watson
On July 14, we published The Great American Brainwash: Half a Billion Dollars to Turn the Public against Hillary.
The piece hit a nerve, getting shared more than 20,000 times. Here's an excerpt:
The New York Times looks behind the curtain of the shadowy conservative effort to demolish Hillary Clinton’s favorable public image: "An expensive and sophisticated effort is underway to test and refine the most potent lines of attack against Mrs. Clinton, and, ultimately, to persuade Americans that she does not deserve their votes. Republican groups are eager to begin building a powerful case against the woman they believe will be the Democratic nominee, and to infuse the public consciousness with those messages. The effort to vilify Mrs. Clinton could ultimately cost several hundred million dollars, given the variety and volume of political organizations involved."
Crossroads, the group behind this effort, is led by none other than Karl Rove, the strategist who brought us George W. Bush. "Crossroads plans to use a kaleidoscopic approach for its anti-Clinton campaign. In order to target particular voters with tailored messages, the campaign will feature tools including television and radio spots, digital ads on mobile devices, and pre-roll, the commercials that play before videos online."
The goal is to indoctrinate the public with anti-Hillary narratives, to insert carefully tested negative memes into the public debate. It is a form of mental manipulation, intended to discourage critical thinking and create predetermined biases in the minds of voters.
The Wall Street Journal now reveals another nefarious effort to smear Hillary's character:
A collection of top GOP operatives, financed by prominent Republican donors, is launching two new groups to take aim at Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
The groups—Future45, a super PAC, and 45Committee, an issue-advocacy organization—will be bankrolled by some of the biggest donors to Republican candidates and causes, including hedge-fund billionaires Ken Griffin and Paul Singer and the family of TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. Ron Weiser, a former finance chairman at the Republican National Committee, will serve as chairman of Future45, heading up the group’s fundraising efforts.
“There’s a lot more certainty in the Democratic field,” said Brian Walsh, president of Future45. “She is the clear favorite to be the next Democratic nominee, so she is now the focus,” Mr. Walsh continued. “Her integrity, her honesty, her judgment and her performance will be litigated more thoroughly moving forward.”
The groups say their goal is to complement work already being done by outside organizations that back Republican candidates, including American Crossroads, America Rising and entities founded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.
We are not surprised by this desperate Republican attempt to manipulate public opinion. As Hillary gets closer to the White House, the forces that have worked for three decades to bring her down are becoming increasingly frantic. These forces include conservative attack groups, Republican operatives and their media allies such as the Morning Joe crew and Maureen Dowd, who labor to indoctrinate the public with shop-worn negative frames:
• CALCULATING (Scheming, crafty, manipulative)
• SECRETIVE (Suspicious, paranoid, uncommunicative)
• POLARIZING (Divisive, alienating)
• UNTRUSTWORTHY (Corrupt, deceitful, dishonest, unethical)
• OVER-AMBITIOUS (Will do or say anything to win)
• INAUTHENTIC (Disingenuous, fake, unlikable, insincere)
• INHUMAN (Machine-like, robotic, abnormal, cold)
• OVER-CONFIDENT (Inevitable, defiant, imperious, regal)
• OLD (Out of touch, represents the past)
As we explained in our original piece on Rove's Crossroads, these talking points are crafted for maximum impact, designed for the kind of mindless repetition that can turn falsehoods into conventional wisdom:
It is crucial for voters to understand the process by which a false image of Hillary is created. What people think they know about Hillary is often the result of sophisticated memes methodically injected into the political bloodstream.
Our profound hope is that Hillary's Democratic opponents avoid reinforcing the dirty work of GOP billionaires. We recently cautioned that Bernie Sanders faces a defining moment as he is pressured by his advisers to adopt a traditional attack strategy:
It's not that Bernie shouldn't draw contrasts with Hillary (or she with him), that's what a healthy campaign is about. It's that he is suddenly coming dangerously close to the Rovian menu of rightwing anti-Hillary messaging that we've written extensively about, an array of character hits tested and perfected by conservative oppo shops and disseminated by the media and commentariat.
Martin O'Malley already crossed the line this past week with a reprehensible appearance on Morning Joe, where he attacked Hillary with the kind of character-destroying language favored by rightwing operatives. As Joe Scarborough grinned voraciously and Mika Brzezinski nodded happily, O'Malley questioned Hillary's authenticity, her commitment, and her honesty. And he claimed that Hillary and Bernie Sanders have not "gotten much done."
This, from someone who said of Hillary during the 2008 race: "At a critical time in our history, Hillary Clinton is the kind of experienced leader this country needs. No one is better equipped to repair America's alliances abroad and address the urgent needs of our communities at home."
As GOP billionaires try to pervert Hillary's public image, her Democratic rivals should stay far away from those ugly tactics.
UPDATE (10/30/15): From the NY Times:
Paul Singer, one of the wealthiest and most influential Republican donors in the country, is throwing his support to Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a decision that could swing millions of dollars in contributions behind Mr. Rubio at a critical point in the Republican nominating battle.
This is the same Paul Singer funding the new anti-Hillary smear group. Is it any surprise that Rubio is falsely accusing Hillary of lying at her Benghazi hearing?
Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.