The former Democratic presidential candidate, a favorite villain of the right, has been featured prominently across Fox News’ programming this week.
In many cases, instead of the network’s hosts applying pressure to the current President, who is grappling with the fallout from a federal investigation related to Russian election meddling, Fox News’ personalities have deflected and turned their attention to Clinton. On Tuesday night, for instance, Clinton found herself a key point of discussion throughout the network’s primetime lineup.
It isn’t just them. President Trump himself seems to be practically obsessed with Clinton, as Philip Bump explains:
Whatever Trump does or doesn’t do, he’s always willing to point out what Clinton did or didn’t do that’s worse.
So she comes up in his interviews a lot. In fact, in 19 interviews that he’s conducted since becoming president, we found that Clinton tended to be mentioned much earlier than a number of Trump’s other favorite topics: The 2016 election, the votes he received, the electoral college and Barack Obama. …
In 17 of 19 of his interviews, Clinton came up, on average about 36 percent of the way in.
Without going back and checking, I’m pretty sure Obama didn’t bring up how he beat John McCain in 90 percent of the interviews he conducted during his first six months in office. I don’t recall George W. Bush talking about Al Gore at all after he became president. So what’s going on here?
For Trump personally, I think it’s mostly about the deep insecurity that comes through every time he opens his mouth. It’s why he’s always telling everyone how smart and knowledgeable and accomplished he is, something that people who are actually smart and knowledgeable and accomplished don’t do. He feels a need to remind everyone that he won the election, usually embellishing the story by characterizing it as bigger and more emphatic a victory than it actually was. As his vanquished opponent, Clinton is a symbol of his potency and dominance.
The fact that Clinton got millions more votes than him is obviously a wound that won’t stop hurting, so he keeps trying to convince everyone that the vote was fraudulent and that whatever he’s being accused of, she did it worse. Eight months after the election, she’s still the yardstick he’s measuring himself against.
Trump also seems to bring up the campaign (and Clinton) so much because things were much clearer for him then. It was him against her in a contest that made sense, and he won. Now he has to spend his days worrying about policies he neither understands nor cares about, he’s bedeviled by investigations, and he doesn’t have the succor that comes from hearing the cheers of an adoring crowd every night. When he brings up Clinton, he’s like an aging athlete reliving his glory days. Hey, did I ever tell you about the time I threw a touchdown pass to win the homecoming game? Yes, Uncle Don, only about a hundred times.
For the conservative media, there’s a slightly different motivation at work. If you’re Fox News or a conservative talk radio show, the fact that Trump squeaked out an electoral-college victory laid waste to the plans you had for the next four years. It was going to be such fun! A Clinton presidency would have been a glorious time, filled with purpose and professional success. Now you find yourself defending a dreadful health-care plan, but if she were president, you would have been luxuriating in constant congressional investigations, innumerable phony scandals and an endless supply of things to get outraged about. And outrage is the fuel of conservative media — it’s what provides the content, engages the viewers and listeners, and keeps the audience coming back. Getting people mad is much easier than persuading them to feel happy or hopeful or excited about what the administration is doing.
That’s especially true if the administration isn’t actually doing very much. As the months drag on without any significant achievements from the Trump administration, the need to pump up the emotional volume becomes more acute. And emotion comes not from discussions about policy but from stories with heroes and villains.
The problem for conservatives is that American politics today is a story that has its hero but doesn’t have a villain. The president makes news nearly every day, but we can go weeks without hearing something interesting from Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) or Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). And like all opposition leaders, next to the president with the majesty of his office behind him, they look small and inconsequential, barely worth getting mad at.
Trump got elected in large part by getting his voters mad — at immigrants, at Muslims, at politicians and at a supposedly rigged political system. But as president, he’s had a hard time sustaining that anger and constructing that story of himself as a warrior fighting against a threatening enemy.
Other Republican presidents had it much easier. President Ronald Reagan had a natural counterpoint in the Russians, an enemy Americans had hated for decades. The Cold War provided opportunities for threat and confrontation — invade a tiny island country here, make a speech in Berlin there, and you have a drama that never gets old. President George W. Bush spent eight years telling Americans they were about to be annihilated by villainous Middle Easterners, first al-Qaeda, then Saddam Hussein. By the end of his tenure the story had lost its punch, but it did get him reelected.
Trump, on the other hand, has no villain to fight. So he and his allies are left looking backward to the person who was supposed to be the villain of the moment but now is just a retiree strolling around the woods in Westchester County. No wonder they seem so dispirited.