Hillary against Everyone

Hillary Clinton speaks in Las Vegas, Nev., in 2016. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

This is an excerpt from episode 187 of The Editors.

Rich: So, Michael, this podcast, in deference to you, cannot pass up any opportunity to discuss significant Tulsi Gabbard news. We have major news breaking as we record of Tulsi’s defamation. Is it defamation?

Michael: Yeah.

Rich: Lawsuit against Hillary Clinton what do you make of it?

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Michael: Well, I don’t think the suit is going to go very far. It’s very hard to get defamation off the ground, especially in these kind of cases where it’s not like Gabbard has a business interest that is being harmed, or something like that where these sorts of suits tend to succeed. But basically, Hillary Clinton, in another one of her rants about Russia, said that Tulsi Gabbard is supported by the Russians, and that her 4 percent or 5 percent popularity in, I guess, Iowa and New Hampshire is manufactured by the bots and troll-farm armies of the Russian regime. Gabbard is suing her. I don’t think the suit is going to go anywhere, but I do think Gabbard’s honor has been impugned. Gabbard is a veteran. Actually, probably her biggest following is among other veterans, a substantial minority of which tend to be very anti-interventionist in their orientation at least after the record of the last 20 years.

And, yeah, I think it was an ugly thing for Clinton to do. Gabbard has this odd following that extends beyond just myself, but like Joe Rogan, who is an influential podcaster. He has basically told people the only candidates he cares about are Bernie and Tulsi, and everyone else can, I think the phrase he’s used is unrepeatable on a family podcast, but you get the drift. Anyway, it’s another one of these signs, though, of there is this kind of paranoia of the center in the Democratic party. There’s a kind of upwardly mobile news-addicted person who watches CNN all the time and thinks the Russians are in control of everything, of every adverse development for them politically. It’s a strange sickness. It’s something that I felt like half of my childhood education was about the Hollywood blacklist and the dangers of McCarthyism. And now I live in an America where people are routinely accused of being under the control of Vladimir Putin, and it’s just repeated and accepted. I’m glad she’s fighting back. I don’t know if this is the way to do it.

Rich: Charlie, what do you make of the suit?

Charlie: Well, I’ll tell you what I think. I think that whatever the outcome, Hillary Clinton has made it clear that she is somebody who should not be listened to or taken seriously. There’s two options here. The first option is that Hillary Clinton did indeed defame Tulsi Gabbard — the controlling Supreme Court cases here are New York Times v. Sullivan, and then Curtis Publishing Company v. Butts

Rich: Are you sure you have these litigation names correct?

Charlie: I do, I have them the right way around this time. Butts took the ruling in Sullivan essentially applied it to public figures as well as public officials. Did Hillary Clinton defame Tulsi Gabbard? You could argue that she did. You could argue that what she said was an attempt to damage Tulsi Gabbard who is running for office, not just for president, but who will be seeking reelection. You can argue that it meets the actual malice standard. But if it doesn’t, if Hillary Clinton didn’t contrive this as a means by which to hurt and damage the reputation of Tulsi Gabbard, then Hillary Clinton is a fool. If Hillary Clinton is just another person who spouts off, makes things up, says and repeats things she’s seen on Twitter, has been taken in by partisan news, has been seduced by cable, then why should we listen to her?

There’s really only two choices here. One is that Hillary Clinton is evil and said this about Tulsi Gabbard maliciously, and the other is that Hillary Clinton is frivolous and is quite happy to write off anybody who disagrees with her, or who has a different view as being in the service of a foreign power. So I don’t expect this lawsuit to prevail because it will be difficult to prove the standards laid out in those two controlling opinions, but I think that this should do a great deal of damage to Hillary Clinton’s reputation either way because neither potential outcome reflects well on somebody who almost made it to the presidency.

Rich: So, Jim, in other Hillary controversy news, we had this flap with Bernie Sanders where Hillary is basically blaming Bernie for her loss. It’s always someone else’s fault. Poor Hillary, her defeat, and now she’s fingering Bernie. I can understand Democrats’ irritation at Bernie Sanders, who isn’t a Democrat and nearly won the party’s nomination the last time in an unexpected and hugely divisive fight. But Bernie, he got on board. He did events for Hillary. He was as much of a team player as he possibly could be. What do you make of this flap?

Jim: Before I jump into Bernie versus Clinton, Rich, I just want to add one point to the discussion about Tulsi Gabbard. This came from a guy named Jon Lustig on Twitter. He made an interesting point. If you or I, or the guy down the street say that Tulsi Gabbard is a Russian agent. Okay, well, just some schmo. Hillary Clinton is a former secretary of state, and in her position, she had access to presumably the very finest intelligence that our intelligence community could generate. And if we learned anything from our experience, it’s that she always handles it correctly, and carefully, and never just puts it anywhere, but so when Hillary Clinton says, I looked up the quote, “I think they’re held by the Russians. I think they’ve got an eye on somebody who’s currently in the Democratic primary, and they’re grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.”

And then subsequently Clinton spokesman, Nick Merrill, confirmed that the former secretary of state was referring to Gabbard when she was describing a Democratic candidate preferred by Russia, okay? Now people might look at that and say, “Oh, Hillary Clinton is making this accusation. Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who had access to all the intelligence. Maybe she knows something that the rest of us don’t know.” And that to me — look, most of this lawsuit from Tulsi Gabbard sounds like attention grabbing, not very serious, likely to get thrown out very quickly. The way it’s written, it’s short of everything short of a doodle of a middle finger in the margin to give you a sense of the tone that Tulsi Gabbard’s lawyers take in this whole thing. But that having been said, under the philosophy of Uncle Ben of Spider-Man, say that with great power comes great responsibility.

If you get the power of access to the best information the intelligence community can generate, then you have a responsibility to not run around willy-nilly accusing people of being Russian spies. So I don’t think Tulsi Gabbard is going to win on this legal argument. It probably is going to get dismissed, but I do think it’s a slightly different category then just some schmo coming along and saying, “Oh, I think that person’s a Russian spy.”

On the Bernie Sanders stuff, there are two possibilities when Hillary made her comment that nobody likes him, nobody works with him, he never got anything done. And perhaps most significantly the line that Hillary Clinton said, where she was asked “would you endorse him?” and she says, “I’m not going to go there yet.” She didn’t say she wouldn’t, but she also, her answer was not immediately, “Yes, I will endorse him up against the man who crushed my dream of being president of the United States and generated the greatest humiliation of my life.”

Michael: Her husband used to golf with Trump just putting it out there. Her husband used to golf with Trump. I don’t think they were social with Bernie.

Jim: The aspect of this that I think jumps out is that maybe this is just to promote the documentary coming out.

Rich: Is anyone social with Bernie? It seems like it’s really hard to be social with Bernie.

Michael: Tom Steyer is trying.

Charlie: Tom Steyer is clearly trying to make sure that he’s not the first one up against the wall come the Bernie Sanders revolution. It’s so funny he keeps saying, “I just wanted to say hi.” “I can’t help myself.” “I do love that Bernie — please don’t shoot me. Please don’t shoot me.”

Jim: I think he’s just lonely. Why did he run for president? To meet people. So, it’s possible this is just “watch my documentary,” but I also think there’s an element of there are a lot of Democrats who are getting tired of Bernie Sanders’s grief and aggravation. And for a whole bunch of reasons going back to 2015, he’s never really been one of them. He’s a pain in the neck to deal with. He’s always generating some fight or other, and they’ve just had it with them. It’s not just the Hillary fans. You listen to the people who were big fans of Julián Castro, and Kamala Harris, and these folks who were out who were kind of free agents. They see this stuff with Bernie, and they’re like, “Oh, God, here we go again.” And, oh, by the way, 12 percent of Bernie’s voters voted for Trump in 2016. I’m sure a lot of these people are like, “Why are we trying to cater to these people?”

Michael: They should cater to them because 12 percent of them went to Trump last time. I mean, it’s a swing vote, right? That’s available to a certain kind of progressive agenda and then is also available to a certain kind of Trumpean nationalist agenda. Absolutely, they need to cater to these people if they want to win, if they’re serious about being a party in power. I’m not sure that they are. I think they’d rather be smug and out of power than associate with the wrong sort of deplorable and be in power at times. So I don’t know. I think Hillary Clinton, if she were in this race, she’d be trailing Bernie right now, and she is in no position to be like, “Nobody likes this guy. Nobody wants to work with him.” He also does get more amendments past McConnell than some of the other candidates out there have done in the past. And so the charges that he’s a totally ineffective legislator I really don’t think that’s true.

Rich: So, Jim Geraghty, exit question to you. This is our next to last podcast before the Iowa caucuses. It’s getting into serious prediction season, so let’s start with the aforementioned Bernie Sanders exit question. Jim Geraghty, Bernie Sanders will win Iowa or New Hampshire, will win Iowa and New Hampshire, will win neither Iowa or New Hampshire?

Jim: He will lose Iowa, but win New Hampshire, and he’ll be in it till the very end.

Rich: MBD.

Jim: But not win the nomination.

Michael: So I think the effect in Iowa is that Bernie and Biden — the result will be higher than they went polling in the day before. I’m just going to go with where my guts been leading me in the past couple of weeks. Bernie runs the table. Iowa, New Hampshire, and then South Carolina, too.

Jim: All right. Bold. Charlie Cooke.

Charlie: Wow. You think Bernie wins South Carolina, Michael, that’s quite the prediction.

Michael: I think it will be clear.

Rich: So Nevada’s in between, so he’d win Nevada, too? He’d win the first four?

Michael: I think the winner, if you win both the first two, the momentum, the party just says we have a winner here. I think these end faster than previously thought.

Charlie: I think that if Bernie were to win the first two, I think that you would see a backlash, a freakout, a correction. I’m not saying that Bernie wouldn’t eventually win it, but I think you’d have some people in the party saying, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, but either way.

Michael: I’m just picturing Mike Lee standing on the convention floor trying to get his amendments through. You know what I mean? Like there was a huge period of denial on the Republican side in 2016.

Charlie: It’s only been in Iowa.

Michael: There will be a period of denial on the Democratic side if Bernie is going to be a winner.

Charlie: Right. That’s my view as well. I think he will win New Hampshire or Iowa. I don’t think he’ll win both.

Rich: I’m an Iowa, New Hampshire guy as well. I kind of think Iowa. I think once Bernie wins Iowa, nothing good happens for the Democrats because a stop-Bernie effort will swing into effect, or he wins Iowa and maybe I’m wrong it’s not Iowa, or New Hampshire. Maybe it plausibly could be Iowa and New Hampshire and then a real freakout. I disagree, Michael, I don’t think there’ll be acceptance all the way until June, or even past that. I think that the Trump resistance among anti-Trump Republicans is a good analogy, but Bernie has some spring in his step, and I think if he loses Iowa, I think he comes back and wins New Hampshire.

Michael: What’s everyone’s plan? I mean his fundraising is good. What’s everyone’s plan? There’s no ad time left to buy up because Mike Bloomberg is buying it all.

Rich: He’s got it all, yeah. Well, there’ll be super PACs brought up to nuke the guy and there’s a lot of material to work with.

Charlie: I’m just not convinced that ads are what swings stuff anyway. And if you look back to the Trump primary season, it didn’t really matter what ads said. It didn’t matter what anyone said. People decided and they voted accordingly. And I think that that will go for both Bernie, if he does win both, if he does start to rack up the delegates, but I think it will also go for the inevitable freakout, which may just be a short correction, but will happen irrespective of what’s on television.

Rich: And there also just might be this brings back real Trump flashbacks, but there’s presumably some ceiling there for Bernie, right? At least initially. Klobuchar drops 5 percent, it’s not going to Bernie or Warren. Buttigieg dropped whatever it is in New Hampshire. Assuming he doesn’t win in Iowa, which I think really he has to do, he sort of fades in New Hampshire. He’s 10 percent in New Hampshire, and that’s presumably not going to Bernie or Warren, but another piece here is where’s Biden, right? If he finishes third or fourth in Iowa and there’s some distance, that’s a big problem for him.

Charlie: All Bernie needs to do is win 30–35 percent of the delegates and have more than everyone else, and they can’t take it away from him.

Rich: Right, yeah, then you get the small-d democratic legitimacy.

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