One general rule of observing a Clinton scandal is that it’s always worse than it looks. And while the recent spate of stories exposing Hillary Clinton’s ethical deficiencies as secretary of state and prospective presidential candidate raised the specter of serial influence peddling or worse, last night the foreign-money story took a turn for the worse. The Washington Post reported that the Clinton Foundation accepted foreign-government money while Hillary was secretary of state, a clear-cut violation of basic ethics, to say the very least. Which raises another question: What should liberals do now?

The planned coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party’s nominee without the hassle of a serious primary has certainly helped both the Democrats and Clinton in the obvious ways (party unity, fundraising, etc.). But the foreign-money scandal and the reaction to it show how this also represents an obstacle to both.

It’s an obstacle to Clinton because she has delayed officially declaring her candidacy since she has no true rival to push her to enter the race earlier. That means she’s spending this time not only raking in questionable cash from foreign governments but, as Politico’s Glenn Thrush noted last night, she doesn’t have the campaign communications shop up and running, or at least in midseason form. Thrush tweeted:

This may surprise some Clinton watchers who are used to the Clintons’ obsessive pushback PR machine, but it shouldn’t. Hillary’s acceptance of questionable cash is not done. Indeed, she reopened foreign donations after leaving the State Department with the intention, it appears, to turn off the spigot again when her campaign becomes official (if not after). That means any rapid-response team would have to be kept in the loop on all incoming donations, especially the shady ones. This is not easy to do if the Clintons also wanted to accept the donations in the utmost secrecy.

Hillary’s advantage, then, was (and is) also her disadvantage: keeping the foreign money coming in as late as possible.

This is an obstacle for Democrats in general because they have essentially already taken their oath of loyalty to Clinton. There is no Plan B. This is important, because the Clintons are notorious grudge holders. So when Democratic interest groups want criticism of the Clintons aired, it’s helpful for them to have opposing candidates through which to filter that criticism. The candidate is already on the Clintons’ bad side, and he or she is looking for ammunition anyway. And if Clinton is weak and ought to be challenged or defeated, the primaries are the time to do so. Without a candidate to launch plausible lines of attack against Clinton, the interest groups retreat and reveal the fact that most liberal interest groups are Democratic Party groups looking for an excuse to attack Republicans.

In other words, via Reuters, this is what happens:

Hillary Clinton’s connections to oil and gas interests has created a dilemma for some environmental groups, troubling activists for whom she would be the natural candidate to support for president.

So how are they dealing with this “dilemma”? With a self-imposed gag order, of course:

Uncharacteristically, many green groups normally quick to attack politicians linked to oil and gas companies shied away from commenting on the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with these donors.

The Environmental Defense Action Fund had no comment because it does not have anyone with knowledge of the subject, a spokesman said. Another business friendly green group, the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund also declined, saying it would discuss the issues “when we have declared candidates.” The World Wildlife Fund had no comment.

The Reuters explanation for this towering monument to hypocrisy is priceless. I’d like to meet the person able to keep from laughing out loud when Reuters offers up this cartoon spin:

The reluctance to criticize Clinton reflects her mixed record on climate change. She has made two recent appearances at green-related events, addressing a League of Conservation Voters dinner in December, where she talked about the need to produce natural gas in a way that minimizes pollution. She also spoke at a green energy conference in September.

You see, she may be tied to the oil companies and taking donations from petrostates, but she attended a League of Conservation Voters dinner, so let’s call it a wash.

Of course it may be true that she has done some important things for climate change, like talk and speak and ramble and rant and maybe talk some more. At the very least, her emission of hot air raises awareness of the potentially harmful gas all around us.

But I don’t think a single person is fooled by the spinelessness of the green lobby. These pressure groups exist to elect Democrats and defeat Republicans. Nothing has changed about their political activism or their role or their raison d’être. Instead, they’re merely exposed as the partisan actors they are.

Even though that’s true, on some level it should engender some sympathy. Because those who act out against the Clintons are punished, and that isn’t good for anybody’s green agenda either. If the World Wildlife Fund gets sidelined, who will pretend to save the polar bears?

The lesson here is that there is a danger in going all-in on one candidate and being “Ready for Hillary” long before the campaign even begins. And “Stuck with Hillary” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

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