For once, Republican Party operatives are feeling grateful to The New York Times. Thanks to the paper of record’s blockbuster report on Harvey Weinstein’s long alleged history of sexual predation, Republicans are seeking to brand the Hollywood producer—a longtime donor to Democrats and liberal causes—as the smarmy face of rich liberal privilege.
The Democrats, after all, claim to be champions of women’s rights—so taking money from a repulsive figure like Weinstein seems like obvious hypocrisy. “During three-decades worth of sexual harassment allegations, Harvey Weinstein lined the pockets of Democrats to the tune of three quarters of a million dollars,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel gloated in a press statement. “If Democrats and the DNC truly stand up for women like they say they do, then returning this dirty money should be a no brainer.”
Of course, political hypocrisy is often in the eye of the beholder. Democrats, in turn, are quick to point out that McDaniel is drawing her own paycheck from the party that’s launched Donald “Grab Them by the Pussy” Trump into the highest summit of power. But beyond the familiar, sententious sport of Washington hypocrisy-spotting, it’s pointless to deny that McDaniel is right: Weinstein’s “dirty money” should be repudiated.
Weinstein himself continues to supply the best argument for this course of action every time he opens his mouth. On Friday, the Hollywood producer released a cringe-inducing statement showcasing his own m.o.: He intends to keep using his liberal activism to defend himself—and to distract attention—from serious allegations of sexual assault. “I am going to need a place to channel [my] anger so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention,” Weinstein wrote. “I hope Wayne LaPierre will enjoy his retirement party. I’m going to do it at the same place I had my Bar Mitzvah. I’m making a movie about our President, perhaps we can make it a joint retirement party. One year ago, I began organizing a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors at USC.” The subtext here couldn’t be clearer: Love me, I’m a liberal. Don’t think of me as a man who coerces sex from female underlings, but rather as a progressive Santa Claus dedicated to fighting the NRA and Trump.
But Weinstein isn’t acting like Santa Claus so much as a liberal Roger Ailes, and he’s tendering a sordid Faustian bargain that Democrats—and liberals in general— should reject. To their evident credit, they’re so far doing just that. As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo notes, there has been a rapid move, in liberal circles and beyond, to disavow Weinstein: “Weinstein was immediately forced to take a leave from his company. A parade of Democrats ostentatiously coughed up his campaign contributions. His legal team abandoned him. Yesterday he was fired from his eponymous company. Various Hollywood luminaries have denounced him. I’m at least not aware of anyone in that world who is publicly sticking up for him.”
But why stop here? What we might call the Weinstein rule—dirty money deserves political rebuke—shouldn’t just apply in Weinstein’s case. Weinstein’s sexual predations are repellent, but they’re also far from the only immoral byproduct of big-donor politics.
Even in the age of Donald Trump, it’s a hard-won consensus in American politics that Nazism and open avowals of white nationalism are bad, and should be denied public legitimacy. Trump himself defied this consensus after white nationalists and Nazis staged violent protests in Charlottesville that killed a protester in Charlottesville, saying there were “very fine people” participating in the white nationalist march. And as a result of his remarks, he faced a backlash among many in his own party.
Given this consensus, it stands to reason, then, that a big donor who supported the mainstreaming of Nazism and white nationalism would be a prime example of “dirty money” in politics. And Joseph Bernstein’s own recent blockbuster report for BuzzFeed shows beyond question that the Mercer family, who donated more than $25 million to the GOP last year, has gone to great lengths to finance and normalize racist extremism.
Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah are the major patrons of Steve Bannon and the far-right media empire that encompasses Breitbart News and the provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Drawing on a trove of leaked emails, Bernstein makes clear that Yiannopoulos has deep intellectual and personal ties to the racist far right, including figures like Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer of the fascist website The Daily Stormer and Devin Saucier of American Renaissance. During his tenure at Breitbart, Yiannopoulos drew heavily on the counsel from such figures, even soliciting their help in editing and composing a major article he wrote for Breitbart on the alt-right.
Yiannopolous’s affinity for white nationalism can be seen even in something as mundane as his passwords. Per Bernstein’s report:
In an April 6 email, [Yiannopoulos’s assistant] Allum Bokhari mentioned having had access to an account of Yiannopoulos’s with “a password that began with the word Kristall.” Kristallnacht, an infamous 1938 riot against German Jews carried out by the SA — the paramilitary organization that helped Hitler rise to power — is sometimes considered the beginning of the Holocaust. In a June 2016 email to an assistant, Yiannopoulos shared the password to his email, which began “LongKnives1290.” The Night of the Long Knives was the Nazi purge of the leadership of the SA. The purge famously included Ernst Röhm, the SA’s gay leader. 1290 is the year King Edward I expelled the Jews from England.
In other words, Breitbart and Yiannopoulos were engaged in an intellectual laundering operation. They took the dirty racist memes favored among actual Nazis and transformed them into linen that could be displayed in polite company. All this was made possible by the largess of the Mercers.
If the “dirty money” of Harvey Weinstein has corrupted Democratic politics, the same can be said for the dirty money of the Mercers. There should be a loud public call for a complete repudiation of the Mercers.
In this sense, and in this sense alone, we should be grateful to Harvey Weinstein—for helping to set a new standard when it comes to donations. As recently as last month, Hillary Clinton was still flogging the old talking point that the source of donations doesn’t matter when it comes to political advocacy and policy making. Now, however, it seems as though our political norms are shifting away from Clinton’s lassitude. If the cry is now that “dirty money” is unacceptable, we need to scrutinize every big donor.