When the Democratic Party nominated former secretary of state Hillary Clinton as their standard bearer for the 2016 presidential race, the GOP was way ahead of the game. Republicans had been doing everything they could to damage her credibility and weaken her eventual candidacy for decades.
Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s four-year investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton is mostly forgotten except that it resulted in President Clinton’s impeachment in 1998. That effort was engineered by then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a no-holds-barred, firebrand politician from the far right. Right-wing conspiracy theorists at the time even accused the Clintons of murdering Vince Foster, the Deputy White House Counsel who committed suicide in July 1993.
Still, Bill survived impeachment and left office in January 2001 with a reasonably high approval rating. That same month, Hillary was sworn in as New York’s junior senator, having won that seat in November 2000 while still serving as First Lady.
She would use this platform to run for the nation’s highest office in the Democratic primary in January 2008. The right-wing was ready for her. Conservative non-profit Citizens United produced a political documentary entitled Hillary: The Movie that they hoped to release early in that campaign. It portrayed Ms. Clinton as unfit to be president.
The film was blocked by the Federal Election Commission, however, and became the subject of the infamous “Citizens United” Supreme Court case. I believe the resulting decision rendered by the conservative majority was one of the most undemocratic in the history of the court, but that’s a different story. The point is: Mrs. Clinton was constantly under attack from the right.
Hillary lost the primary battle to Barack Obama; and he went on to represent the Democrats in 2008 and was elected president. After being inaugurated, President Obama selected Hillary to be his secretary of State, which probably angered Republicans.
Although Gingrich resigned from the House in 1999, the seeds of political viciousness he had planted in the GOP took root with some of the far right proteges he had promoted in Congress and continued to grow during President George W. Bush’s eight years in office. Right-wing radio talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and archconservative Fox News — which had begun broadcasting in 1996 — continued to promote Gingrich’s strong hostility for liberals among their conservative audiences.
During the Bush years another ruthless politician was working his way up the GOP leadership ladder in the Senate, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell. As a reward for his battle against campaign finance reform, he was elected the Republican minority leader in January 2007. McConnell is given credit for devising and executing a democracy-weakening program of obstruction against Obama that was unprecedented in Congress. He weaponized the filibuster with such ferocity that a 60-vote majority was required for almost every action taken by the Senate.
Having a black man as president, however, was just too much for conservatives to tolerate. Under the guise of promoting fiscal restraint in response to the Great Recession, they formed the Tea Party in 2009 and won a huge victory in the 2010 midterm elections.
In 2011, the Republican-controlled House Oversight Committee chairman, Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), commenced investigations into every blip that occurred in Obama’s executive branch. When three Americans and Ambassador Chris Stevens were killed in the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, Republicans seized on another opportunity to demonize then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
These Republicans thrived on conspiracy theories. So, Issa began hearings based on unsubstantiated claims that Clinton had denied security for the Benghazi facility and had prevented military assets from providing support during the attack. Numerous other Republican-controlled committees in the House also began investigations, as did the Democrat-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Secretary Clinton was not found to be at fault by any of these inquiries.
Still, House Republicans commissioned a select committee to continue the Benghazi inquiry in May 2014. It was this committee that uncovered evidence of Mrs. Clinton’s private email server.
By 2015 it was clear that Clinton would be a candidate for the Democratic nomination to run for president in 2016. During an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, House majority leader Keven McCarthy (R-Calif.) defended conservatives’ performance in the House with the following: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi …. select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”
Tragic as it was, the Benghazi attack pales in comparison to the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Still, Republicans prolonged the politically-motivated Benghazi inquisition against Hillary Clinton for more months than both of these world-shaking atrocities. Yet, they uncovered nothing new.
Now Republicans want to close the book on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s damning report on President Trump and put the FBI on trial for investigating the Trump campaign’s very questionable Russia connections. And – incredibly – they want to reopen investigations of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Sad!
No, Trump is not the cause of the cancer — some call it rot — in the GOP; he is a symptom of it. This malignancy has been spreading from its right-wing for several decades. And after Trump leaves office, Republicans will continue to degrade our institutions and democratic processes until the Gingrich, McConnell and Tea Party influences in the GOP are excised.