Donald Trump is maybe the least subtle politician of all time. In a way, that’s good—there’s never really a question of where he stands or what he’s going to do, even if it’s blithely stupid or downright evil. But that lack of subtlety makes conjuring up political scandals difficult, especially when you’re running the same playbook from four years ago.
This time around it’s allegedly Hunter Biden’s emails, not Hillary Clinton’s that are the big scandal. Former New York mayor and current Trump lawyer/confidant Rudy Guilani apparently came into the emails which supposedly expose Joe Biden for meeting with an advisor from the board of the Ukranian energy company on which his son Hunter served.
It was an obvious gotcha play from the jump—there was no independent verification of the emails originally reported by the New York Post. Biden’s campaign refuted the story, and many major social media companies (including Facebook and Twitter) began limiting access to the article. Just days later, multiple outlets reported that intelligence officials warned Trump in late 2019 that Giuliani was conveying Russian disinformation about Biden.
According to the Post’s dubious original reporting, Giuliani obtained a hard drive that contains over 40,000 Biden emails—a number similar in scope to the 33,000 Clinton deleted on her private server. Really, it doesn’t bear much difference from the Clinton email scandal Trump wound up riding to victory in 2016.
The idea here is simple: make this seem like a huge deal by throwing an enormous, undefinable number of emails out there. The Clinton email scandal, while having potentially serious implications, was completely blown out of proportion by the media. It quickly became the only thing that could potentially balance out an otherwise obvious blowout victory for Clinton, and wound up being one of the deciding factors against her. Of course, the scandal turned out to be nothing more than concern trolling; several members of Trump’s White House have since used personal emails, and the president himself regularly used his personal cell phone despite repeated warnings about the security risks.
The only way the Trump administration’s grift can work is if the media buys into it, and so far it hasn’t. Aside from sites like Facebook and Twitter limiting access to the Post article, most major news organizations haven’t bothered giving the story any airtime (other than to call it an obvious fraud). Many journalists and producers likely lament letting the Clinton email scandal take on a life of its own in the lead-up to 2016 for the sake of ratings and don’t want to repeat the same mistake. But it’s easy to learn from it when the next supposedly major pre-election scandal is essentially the same as the first with the names swapped out and presented by a cockamamie lawyer who basically got the president impeached. If the Biden email scandal looks, sounds, and smells like familiar bullshit, that’s because it definitely is.