Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Caught up in this increasingly chaotic campaign season, sometimes it seems confused conservative media members can’t keep track of what both hands are doing. Confronted with a nominee who’s been rejected by key editorial outlets such as The Weekly Standard and National Review, conservative commentators often find themselves simultaneously condemning Trump’s behavior while trafficking in those same traits.

For instance, on the one hand, lots of GOP commentators have forcefully criticized “unshackled” Trump for wallowing in endless, unsupported conspiracy theories, such as the candidate’s recent claim that the pending presidential election is “rigged” and that he might not accept the November election results.

But on the other hand, the conservative press has been nearly unified this week in excitedly pushing yet another unsupported conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton’s emails, this one featuring a supposedly ominous “quid pro quo” arrangement between the State Department and the FBI. (Fact: The premise is completely bogus.)

So yes, there are some major self-awareness issues on display during the final weeks of the campaign as the dysfunctional conservative media — which for years (and for decades) has wallowed in wild, baseless conspiracies — calls out Trump for wallowing in wild, baseless conspiracies.

The disconnect is pronounced. “Mainstream Republicans are watching these developments at the top of the ticket with a growing sense of alarm, calling Trump’s latest conspiracy theories of a rigged election irresponsible and dangerous,” The Boston Globe reported.

Really? Conservatives and Republicans are alarmed that Trump trumpets make-believe claims of “rigged” elections? That he might not concede defeat?

“It is interesting that Republicans have chosen to draw the line at Trump’s completely unfounded claims,” noted Mark Joseph Stern at Slate. “For the past 16 years, the GOP has fervidly stoked Americans’ fears of voter fraud and repeatedly declared that Democrats were stealing elections without any basis in reality.” (Making it harder for people to vote has also become a hallmark of the GOP legislative agenda.)

The GOP’s “stealing” claim goes double for right-wing media, which for years have delighted in fanning race-baiting flames about “voter fraud” and stolen elections. But Trump openly discussing “rigged” elections goes too far for the same community of pundits? Apparently the nominee’s sin isn’t claiming Democratic voters, and especially black Democratic voters, cheat at the ballot box, it’s that he lays it on too thick.

I suspect the Republican and conservative media tsk-tsking over “rigged” rhetoric must be confusing for a political novice like Trump who’s trying to figure out which far-out conservative conspiracies are okay to campaign on, and which are deemed to be out of bounds.

Here’s a possible cheat sheet for Trump:

Claiming elections are “rigged” is bad, but insisting there’s been a wide-ranging Clinton email “cover-up” is good.

Pushing the Obama “birther” story is bad, but claiming Obamacare is built around “death panels” is good.

What’s also confusing is that the same conservative commentators and publications that are denouncing Trump conspiracies today are often busy simultaneously pushing their own dubious plots.

For instance, in July, The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes admonished “crazy” Trump for pushing nutty schemes, like suggesting Sen. Ted Cruz’s father played a role in the JFK assassination, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been murdered, and that thousands of people in Jersey City, N.J., celebrated in the streets when the towers at the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11.

Trump’s conspiracy gibberish sounded like something “one might expect from a patient in a mental institution” wrote Hayes.

So Hayes is adamantly opposed to political conspiracies and thinks Trump looks foolish pushing them. But guess who authored the Weekly Standard article that recently launched the debunked FBI/Clinton email conspiracy? And guess which Weekly Standard writer spent three years concocting or running with unsubstantiated claims about the terror attack in Benghazi?

Stephen Hayes.

Hayes and The Weekly Standard aren’t alone in their hypocrisy. Last year, National Review Online also criticized Trump for his support of the absurd birther conspiracy theory. More recently, NRO has attacked Trump for hyping the “rigged” allegations: “This is reckless in the extreme.”

Indeed, for conservative commentators who have refused to back Trump this year and who have openly disparaged his candidacy and his nomination, his love of unproven conspiracies has served as a central plank for their opposition.

But like The Weekly Standard, NRO this week eagerly pushed the tall Clinton/FBI email conspiracy tale. Separately, NRO has claimed the reason Clinton wasn’t prosecuted for her use of private emails was because the Obama administration covered up the Clinton “felony” in order to protect the president’s equally illegal email use.

Or something.

Thinly sourced plots that supposedly reveal Democratic criminality (and worse!) have certainly defined the conservative press during the Obama administration. Just look at Benghazi, the three-year conspiracy-palooza proudly presented by Fox News and the entire conservative media galaxy.

Media Matters spent years debunking the endless claims.

Simply put, this is a conservative movement that’s so addicted to dopey conspiracy plots and to connecting non-existent dots, and has so normalized the practice in the pursuit of partisan politics, that it can’t even recognize Trump is simply channeling their own paranoia into a national campaign.

Watching Trump’s ugliness projected onto a big screen, conservatives recoil. But they’re really just watching a self-portrait.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

IMAGE: Bill Kristol, #NeverTrump advocate and editor of The Weekly Standard.