David Brock, the conservative journalistic assassin turned progressive empire-builder, is sitting in a conference room in the Park Avenue South offices of the MWW Group, a public-relations firm owned by Democratic mega-donor Michael Kempner. Fifty-two years old with a silver pompadour, and wearing round glasses with wire frames, he’s barely recognizable as the skinny, dark-haired operative who, during the Clinton administration, had an answering-machine message that said, “I’m out trying to bring down the president.”
That, of course, was before he publicly repented, first in a 1997 Esquire article, “Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man,” and then in 2002’s self-flagellating book, Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative. It was before he founded Media Matters for America, which monitors the right-wing media, in 2004, and American Bridge, an unprecedented Democratic opposition-research organization, in 2010. It was before he became a favorite of Bill and Hillary Clinton, the very couple he’d spent his years as an enfant terrible trying to destroy.
Yet Brock’s years in the conservative movement still mark him, particularly in how he conceives of his current mission to expose and defeat his former allies. First among the lessons he learned on the other side, he says, “is the idea of permanence. Ideological campaigns for our values have to be waged on a permanent basis and not only in election years.” Further, he says, “you have to have the resources commensurate with your goals if you’re going to hope to achieve them. Money isn’t by a long shot enough, but it’s a prerequisite. Something else I saw on the right, and that I’ve tried to apply in a different context, is recruiting top talent and trying to pay them close to what they’re worth. And the last thing—and this might be the most important—is patience. Goals this big, you’re not going to achieve them overnight.”
These days, Brock has moved well beyond the repentance phase of his political turnaround. He’s no longer trying to ingratiate himself with the Democratic establishment—he’s now a part of it, employing hundreds of people at organizations with budgets in the tens of millions. Recently, his network has been experiencing a spurt of growth—one that’s likely to continue as the Democrats ramp up their efforts on the 2016 race after the disastrous midterm elections.
An avid Hillary Clinton supporter, Brock is already deeply engaged in the presidential contest. His group American Bridge captures almost every public utterance by prominent Republican politicians, using both DC-based researchers and a national network of professional trackers; it currently has people following all of the even remotely plausible contenders for the Republican nomination. Complementing that operation is Correct the Record, a subsidiary of American Bridge that Brock launched last year to push back against misinformation about Democratic presidential candidates, which so far has meant defending Clinton constantly and consistently.