Why, then, do Republicans keep talking about them?
Start with Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump's third and final campaign manager and most reliable cable news explainer. On today's episode of “Morning Joe,” Conway fielded a question about Trump's campaign promise to appoint a special prosecutor to probe Clinton after the election. For the first time, Conway suggested that he wouldn't, saying that “if Donald Trump can help her heal, then perhaps that's a good thing to do.” Clinton, she explained, “still has to face the fact that a majority of Americans don't find her to be honest or trustworthy.”
If you are wondering something like, “wait, why should a non-candidate worry about her trust rating?” or “is it even legal for a president to direct his DOJ like this?” then join the club. Or maybe distract yourself with the New York Post's story from the weekend, which reports on the financial health of the Clinton Foundation, which stopped being politically relevant on Nov. 9.
“Donations to the Clinton Foundation nose-dived last year amid Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, pay-to-play allegations, internal strife and a black mark from a charity watchdog,” reported the Post. “Contributions fell by 37 percent to $108 million, down from $172 million in 2014, according to the group’s latest tax filings.”
It's an irresistible story that only exists because some facts are left out. In 2014, the Clintons scrambled to raise as much money for their foundation as possible, filling up an endowment because, as Politico's Ken Vogel put it, the charity needed to be prepared “for the absence of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign and possibly her presidency.” In 2013, 11 months of which Hillary Clinton spent as a private citizen, the Foundation raised closer to $140 million.
The Post also notes that the Clintons' 2015 income from paid speeches “fell to $357,500 from $3.6 million in 2014,” without noting that both Clintons spent much of 2015 on the campaign trail. But that absence is telling. The basic story of the Clintons since 2014 is that they committed to a presidential race and stepped back from their charitable foundation, the funding sources of which became a political problem. In the New York Post, there's another story — that the Clintons, pursued by controversy, are watching their empire crumble.
This is not typical for coverage of a defeated presidential candidate. But Hillary Clinton was not a typical candidate. She was the vessel for 25 years of political attacks and controversy. Several people now entering a Trump administration, like David Bossie, spent their careers going after the Clintons. During the campaign, the thrumming of Clinton controversy, coupled with the certitude of voters, pollsters and reporters that Clinton would win the presidency, benefited Trump. A story about his low favorable numbers was twinned with one about her (slightly higher) favorable numbers. A story about his low trust ratings was twinned with her (slightly lower) trust ratings.
In 2017, there will be no Clintons for Trump to kick around anymore. From my own conversations with House Republicans, I know it's not certain that they'll stop investigating questions about Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. In conservative media, there is constant, rumor-laden reporting about whether FBI offices will find corruption in the Clinton Foundation that merits a grand jury investigation.
But for 25 years, those sorts of stories had a direct political follow-up question: Would they affect Hillary Clinton's chances of becoming president? Without that question, the only factors motivating coverage of the Clintons are celebrity and malice. If the worst speculation about the Clinton Foundation's donations is true, it will be a story about whether someone tried to influence the former secretary of state sometime between 2009 and 2013. Come 2017, that's really not much of a story.
In current coverage of the Clintons, you can see this realization sinking in. It's like the moment in “Simpson and Delilah” when Bart accidentally wastes Homer's supply of Dimoxinil, and the panicked Simpson family patriarch tries to sop up what's left to save his hair. People who depended directly on Clinton scandals and rumors — think of Ed Klein, the fan-fiction writer who drops a Clinton book every year, or Alex Jones, the one-man meme machine — have spent the last couple of weeks on stories about Hillary Clinton allegedly crying when she lost the election.
Had Clinton won the election, the anti-Clinton industry would have experienced a second renaissance. She did not win the election.* Come 2017, who is going to want to chase stories about her State Department? Come 2018, how much damage will a Republican campaign do by putting Clinton's face in a campaign ad? Come 2019, who's going to be buying up “Remember Benghazi” merchandise?
*Fine, the popular vote, sure.