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CASHING IN

Ranking the most absurd Hillary Clinton conspiracy books of the 2016 election

Noah Berlatsky
By Noah Berlatsky

Hillary Clinton is a very unpopular candidate. She is disliked by many on the political right, but also by plenty of people on the left and center. Heading into the Democratic National Convention at the end of July, 68% of respondents to a CNN/ORC poll said they considered Clinton dishonest and untrustworthy.

Why so many Americans seem to find the former secretary of state so untrustworthy has been a matter of debate for months. But there is at least one group of voters who love Clinton’s candidacy, and view her campaign for president as an opportunity for newfound prosperity and good fortune.

I speak, of course, of right-wing, anti-Clinton authors.

Clinton has been a preferred bugaboo of the right-wing fever swamp for 20 years and counting. Her 2016 presidential run was like waving a stack of greenbacks in front of a stampede of talking heads. And ever so predictably, those heads have rushed out book after book after book of anti-Clinton punditry and conspiracy designed to inflame the electorate while simultaneously cashing in on an election year bonanza.

To the uninitiated, these books may all seem very much alike: Benghazi, the failure of health-care reform, Benghazi, Vince Foster’s suicide, Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi. Nonetheless, while the literature has been widely discredited, the books actually offer an illuminating if sometimes painful look into the obsessively anti-Hillary hive mind, particularly in relation to the current presidential contest. And so, in the interests of science and self-flagellation, Quartz has read and categorized the most popular recent anti-Clinton screeds. The books are listed in order from bad to worse.

Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich

Schweizer’s Clinton Cash is the respectable, solemn-visaged, powdered-wig-toting grandpappy of Clinton sleaze-mongering. Published way back in May 2015, it includes something like real reporting on a legitimate topic—the Clinton Foundation’s ties to foreign donors and the possible resulting conflict of interest.

Schweizer is a Breitbart News editor, but he eschews that outlet’s open tabloid partisanship and race-baiting in his tome. Instead, he follows the merely-raising-questions playbook. Did Russian donations to the Clinton Foundation lead Clinton to help Putin get access to US uranium? Did a pay-to-play scheme cause Clinton to change her position on nuclear sanctions against India?

Factcheck.org says “not really,” and Politifact says, “no“, but the appearance of impropriety still has Schweizer concerned. His findings, he says, are “troubling enough to warrant (in my opinion) further investigation by law enforcement officers.” That gesture towards nuance is unique among the Clinton hate screeds, and it has served Schweizer well. Outlets like The New York Times picked up on Schweizer’s claims, and he has the dubious honor of being fulsomely praised in every other Clinton book this cycle.

Dinesh D’Souza, Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

There’s something almost exhilarating in D’Souza’s utter disregard for decency and logic. Hillary’s America flatly declares that the Democratic Party is responsible for all the evil in America, ever. “The Democratic Party is now what it has been from the beginning—the party of subjugation, oppression, exploitation, and theft,” he announces gleefully, and goes on to suggest that it is the party—as opposed to the United States government—that should pay reparations to African Americans.

D’Souza’s attacks on Clinton are personal, baseless, and despicable. He argues (with no evidence at all) that she married Bill because she knew he was a sex addict and so would be easier for her to control. On the other hand, his digressions on the evils of Andrew Jackson are somewhat factual, and despite himself he manages to make Saul Alinsky sound like a truly entertaining and interesting figure.

You can see why D’Souza’s documentaries have been so successful. He has a flair for partisan hucksterism. In this he is not unlike Trump himself, whom D’Souza touts in a few passages obviously tacked on hastily after the primary was sewn up.

Dick Morris and Eileen McGann, Armageddon: How Trump Can Beat Hillary

Morris and McGann’s soberly titled Armageddon is a strategy guide for Republicans written by a strategist with a legendary talent for never being right. Morris is truly shameless. He blithely excoriates the Mitt Romney campaign for various tactical errors, never bothering to point out that he was one of the campaign’s biggest (and most blinkered) cheerleaders.

D’Souza’s Trump love is mostly pro forma, but Morris and McGann are all in, and indulge in some truly preposterous shilling. Trump has “impeccable instincts,” the authors insist; he is a “fearless and formidable candidate” with a “brash straight-talking anti-Washington message” who will “triumph at Armageddon and save America.”

It would almost be funny if Morris and McGann weren’t so calculatingly bigoted. Their Islamophobic bashing of Clinton’s aid Huma Abedin is both characteristic and unforgivable.

Gary J. Byrne, Crisis of Character: A White House Secret Service Officer Discloses His Firsthand Experience with Hillary, Bill, and How They Operate

You wouldn’t think it possible to write an anti-Clinton screed worse than both D’Souza’s and Morris’s. But the relatively unknown Gary J. Byrne comes out of nowhere to win the award for transparent hackery.

Byrne was a uniformed Secret Service officer during the Bill Clinton administration, and he may or (more likely) may not have been somewhere nearby when Hillary maybe threw a vase at the president and (maybe) gave him a black eye.

It’s not much to build a book on, but that didn’t stop publisher Hachette, which saw the cascades of cash and grabbed for them. Byrne dutifully drags through the Lewinsky scandal, about which he was forced to testify before Congress, and says a few mean things about Hillary. But most of the memoir concerns his entirely banal career in law enforcement, peppered with ranting about Second Amendment rights and an occasional sneer at political correctness.

Crisis of Character, in short, is a thinly disguised bait and switch, using the promise of Clinton bashing as an excuse to package and push a self-indulgent, self-dramatizing piece of fluff by an uninteresting self-promoter. And it worked: the book has become a #1 New York Times bestseller.

The success of Byrne, as well as that of his fellow scribes, is proof that while you can’t fool all the people all the time, you can sometimes fool enough of them to make yourself gobs of money. Especially if you put the words “Hillary Clinton” on your book cover.