The Clinton Campaign’s Opposition Research on Trump

by Chesterfield –


Opposition Research Director for the Clinton Campaign David Brock

Recently, while trying to puzzle out the Clinton campaign’s future opposition research (“oppo”), I came across this Politico article by Kenneth P. Vogel from 12 April 2016, which discusses, in part, oppo on Trump presented by David Brock to a room full of “the biggest liberal donors in the country.”  (Brock has a complicated history; certainly, he’s remarkably effective at directing opposition research efforts, and he’s currently doing so for the Clinton campaign.)  When I read an article like this, I’m simply awestruck by the diligence, artistry, and sheer competence of the Clinton campaign.  Again, this is from April, before Trump secured his party’s nomination, when Cruz was still a very real possibility, and when Democratic operatives wondered if Ryan might enter the race in an open convention and end up becoming the “consensus candidate.”  Brock crowed to the donors that his group compiled a “trove” of oppo to “knock Trump Tower down to the sub-basement.”

Further, he detailed the Clinton campaign’s specific strategies if Trump became the nominee:

Brock asserted that, if Trump does win the GOP nomination “a bare-knuckles campaign is necessary” to brand him as a greedy. misogynistic racist, and “a danger to the Constitution, a menace to democracy, and a threat to the nation as a whole.”

To anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the election’s tenor and vicissitudes, Brock’s characterizations should sound uncannily familiar: considering what we’ve seen, the phrase “bare-knuckles campaign” might err a little on the side of euphemism, but close enough.  In its efforts to rebrand Trump, the Clinton campaign has managed—ingeniously managed—to provoke Trump, to channel him, into demonstrating these very traits again and again (e.g., Alicia Machado and misogyny) to reinforce the oppo.  Trump may seem almost tragically easy to handle and goad, but, as I’ll eventually argue, the Clinton campaign deserves acknowledgment for making it appear so effortless: provoking specific reactions, even from a personality so uncomplex as Trump’s, and from a person so psychologically un-self-aware, isn’t easy.  In the most recent debate, for instance, by threatening to dispute the results of the election, Trump exposed himself as a foundational threat to the “Constitution,” “democracy,” and “the nation” (Wallace immediately elicited the response, but I’d argue that the Clinton campaign managed to pigeon hole Trump).  The campaign has proven itself remarkably capable—clever, talented, and unflappable.  The pressure and temptation to use some of this oppo earlier must have been tremendous.  Recall, even as Clinton’s standing in the polls steadily and alarmingly declined after her convention bounce, she steadfastly continued fundraising throughout August so she could contribute more than $100 million to down ballot races.

So what oppo does the Clinton campaign have left?  I could make some educated guesses, but they’d  just be speculative theories based on the campaign’s past efforts to define Trump, linking him to the alt-right.  Almost certainly, though, the Clinton campaign has at least one very significant oppo story remaining, which it’s safeguarding against the eventuality of a successful Trump/Assange/Putin attack.  But I’m finding myself reassured, even ebullient, at Brock’s predictions for the campaign.  With each passing day, he’s seeming less like a political operative, and more like a seer—but then, that’s always the effect of skill, talent, and genius: making something impossibly difficult appear natural and easy, even inevitable.  Brock prognosticates:

Not only did he declare “we are going to win this election,” but he predicted a potentially sweeping victory down ballot. He said “we all have this unprecedented opportunity to build a sustainable progressive majority.”  

Yes, we have.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos