In late summer 2016, Miller writes, then-CIA Director John Brennan hurriedly arranged meetings with senior congressional leaders over intelligence that Putin had authorized “a covert operation aimed at destablizing the American presidential election.” The connections among Russian intelligence, WikiLeaks and the Democratic National Committee hack were already public knowledge. But the CIA had two intelligence sources “deep inside the Kremlin” reporting the same finding. Yet when Brennan briefed McConnell, he did more than just play down the findings. He told Brennan, Miller reports, “You’re trying to screw the Republican nominee.”
McConnell is as cynical a politician as you’ll find in Washington, but what makes this quote so frightening is that it goes beyond cynicism into delusion. It is not surprising that the Kentucky Republican publicly undermined something that might hurt the GOP down the ballot. But this accusation came in a private meeting, where McConnell had no reason to accuse the CIA of a liberal conspiracy unless he believed it, or at least thought it likely. I am no fan of Brennan, but there was no reason to suspect that a career CIA employee and veteran of the George W. Bush administration was scheming to undermine Trump, or that other CIA officers would go along with such a plan. (Plus, McConnell must have known, as most of Washington did, that the Obama White House assumed Hillary Clinton would win.) And yet the mind of the country’s most powerful senator warped Russia’s plot into a liberal plot.
We’ve seen this in other areas as well, most notably climate change. The president and his supporters in the Fox News-and-company echo chamber are not just skeptical of the science that (overwhelmingly) shows climate change is man-made; they believe that “climate change” is cover for somebody else’s dastardly deeds. As Hurricane Irma approached Florida last year, radio host Rush Limbaugh told listeners, “There is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it.” Then-Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said global warming “is the first component of authentic global governance.” Trump, meanwhile, has said that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Right-wing conspiracy theories about liberal causes are nothing new. In the 1950s and 1960s, for example, the fringe John Birch Society believed the civil rights movement was a Soviet strategy to create a “Negro Soviet Republic.” These delusions usually stayed on the fringes of the Republican Party, sometimes indulged by its leadership but never acted upon. For the Senate majority leader to ardently accuse the CIA of conspiring against a domestic political party is, as far as I can determine, unprecedented. It seems conspiracy theories now rule the day from the top to the bottom of the Grand Old Party. And with Trump as leader, Republicans are likely to remain in delusion’s clutches, consequences be damned.