Wednesday night, Politico’s Ken Vogel broke the news that David Brock, right-wing-hitman-turned-Hillary-Clinton-bodyguard, is taking over the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW). That means Brock now controls not only CREW, but also the Democrat-backing nonprofits and Super PACS Media Matters, American Bridge, American Independent Institute, and Correct the Record. It’s a veritable empire of liberal third-party groups! All of which prompted Vogel to write on Twitter, immediately after his CREW scoop came out, that Brock is now the Democrats’ version of Karl Rove.
It’s a title Brock has been gunning for since at least 2010, when, in the wake of the Republican rout in the midterm elections, he announced his plans to start American Bridge. Brock, who at the time only counted Media Matters as a jewel in his crown, initially positioned American Bridge as the liberal analogue to Rove’s American Crossroads group, the outside conservative group that played such a key role in the GOP’s 2010 efforts. In Brock’s vision, American Bridge would be a behemoth that raised and spent millions of dollars, primarily on television ads, to benefit Barack Obama and other Democratic candidates in 2012. As he boasted to The New York Times at the time:
My donor base already constitutes the major individual players who have historically given hundreds of millions of dollars to these types of efforts…. They just need to be asked, and I have no doubt they will step up at this critical time.
But then a strange thing happened. Brock’s donors didn’t step up. Although they were happy to continue to fork over money to Media Matters, they didn’t want to contribute to American Bridge.
This was partly because they primarily viewed Brock as a media watchdog, not a political strategist. (After all, they’d come to know him as the repentant right-wing hit man.) But it had more to do with the fact that Obama’s political operation—which, in the wake of the 2010 elections, put out word that it now welcomed Democratic independent-expenditure groups—didn’t want Brock, who during the 2008 Democratic primaries had been one of Hillary Clinton’s most diehard supporters, to be in charge of the I.E. effort.
As one Obama-affiliated Democratic strategist told me at the time, “Do you think David Plouffe and David Axelrod are going to let David Brock go out and build an empire to explain Barack Obama’s policies and worldview to voters?”
In the end, American Bridge was scaled back to be an opposition-research outfit, while Priorities USA, helmed by former Obama aide Bill Burton, became the leading Democratic Super PAC for the cycle.
But now, whatever qualms the Obama people might have about Brock are irrelevant. They’re not making the decisions for 2016; the Clinton people are. And the Clintons love David Brock. Although there are people in Hillary’s orbit who remain wary of him, Hillary and Bill themselves are big fans. Brock tells a great story of visiting the former president in his Harlem office back in 2002 and noticing an entire cabinet filled with copies of Brock’s book Blinded by the Right, which Clinton was famous for pushing on friends.
And so Brock’s ascension to Rove-like status can be taken as yet another sign that, as today’s Times puts it, “Obama is fast becoming the past, not the future, for donors, activists and Democratic strategists.” It’s Hillary Clinton’s—and, by extension, David Brock’s—world now; the rest of the Democratic Party is just living in it.