Hillary Clinton's 'alt-Right' smear will backfire

Hillary Clinton
Chris Keane | Reuters
Hillary Clinton

This commentary originally appeared on TheHill.com.

There are two ways to become relevant as a conservative. The difficult path is to inspire enough Americans with the force of great ideas. The easier option is to incite the right enemies.

Last Thursday, Hillary Clinton gave a small group of left-wing inspired cranks, trolls, and outcast bloggers the easier path towards the latter. In a speech in Reno, Clinton took aim at "an emerging racist ideology known as the 'alt-Right.'" According to Clinton, this "fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party."

This is news to me. Over the past year, I served as the policy coordinator to both the Huckabee and Trump presidential campaigns. Not once did I hear the term "alt-Right" on either campaign.

Yes, I suppose it's possible, as Clinton claims, that my colleagues secretly "traffic in dark conspiracy theories drawn from … the far, dark reaches of the internet." But, at least as far as I can tell, the inspiration behind our campaigns' policy work comes from more familiar sources — think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation, policy staffs in Congress, and center-right publications where conservative wonks tend to publish.

"Perhaps once a passing fad, Clinton may have turned the alt-Right into a genuine force."

Last month in the week before the Republican National Convention, for example, I represented the Trump campaign in Cleveland during GOP Committee Week when delegates gathered from around the country to hammer out the 2016 official party platform. I saw plenty of familiar faces — social conservatives from longstanding evangelical organizations, former foreign policy officials from the Bush administration, and donors who finance their churn of white papers.

Clinton might call it "conservatism as we have known it."

Since leaving the campaign, I've been spending most of my time analyzing political prediction markets like Betfair and PredictIt. So my interest in the alt-Right isn't particularly ideological. As a forecaster, I'm more concerned with whether the alt-Right will shape political outcomes in a meaningful way.

Clinton described the alt-Right as a "loose but organized movement." Loose sounds about right, but organized? To research the alt-Right, I started with a Reddit directory of self-described alt-Right sources. From there, it took me all weekend to dig through hundreds of links — many broken, outdated, or otherwise indecipherable — before I could identify the alt-Right's more coherent thinkers.

There is no alt-Right manifesto as far as I can tell, but three main ideas seem to unite the movement:

(1) Exasperation with Establishment Conservatism. The alt-right calls them the "respectable right" These are the gatekeepers at National Review and Fox News who marginalize the alt-Right and their intellectual progenitors for the sake of mainstream respectability. They are, in the alt-Right narrative — the "crony" web of institutions, pundits, and politicians which share the blame for America's decline.

(2) Opposition to Political Correctness: The alt-Right sees political correctness as a scourge that must be defeated at all costs. While mainstream conservatives accommodate political correctness — criticizing its excesses, but dutifully self-censoring on delicate issues — the alt-Right takes a different approach. The alt-Right not only defends free speech in the abstract, it pushes the boundaries with every conceivable offense it can muster. If the mainstream considers certain ideas to be off-limits, the alt-right treats them as invitations to provoke.

(3) Fear about the Direction of Western Civilization: The alt-Right's edgy commentary on race and gender is more than an attack on political correctness. It stems from a worldview that sees Western Civilization as fragile and besieged. According to the alt-Right, the erosion of traditional values could spell the end of a heritage worth preserving. What unites the laundry list of the alt-Right's enemies — illegal immigrants, feminists, multinational corporations etc. — is a commitment to liberal, globalist ideologies that the alt-Right regards as more than naïve and distasteful. In the alt-right view, they pose an existential threat.

For these reasons, the alt-Right considers Donald Trump to be a fellow-traveler and an imperfect messenger for its ideas.

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton, as a former Goldwater girl, reformed feminist, and globe-trotting diplomat who barely fended off a populist insurrection in her own party, is uniquely situated to answer the alt-Right. Can America retain its national identity in a multicultural society? Can the country reap the rewards of globalization without fanning a dangerous backlash from those left behind? How would Clinton, as the first female president, address the crisis of family breakdown that has only worsened since she published "It Takes a Village" 30 years ago.

Clinton instead chose to smear the alt-Right with the same tropes that it once wielded against today's conservative establishment. Perhaps once a passing fad, Clinton may have turned the alt-Right into a genuine force.

Commentary by Pratik Chougule, the former policy coordinator to the presidential campaigns of Gov. Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump. He is also a former State Department political appointee in the George W. Bush administration.

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