As anyone who has ever watched a crime drama or some reality show regarding a crime, motive is important. It would be stupid of us not to look into the motive for Russia and Putin wanting Trump to win so much that they tried to influence the election to achieve those goals.
First, this writer has no doubts that Russia interfered in the 2016 Presidential election. There is ample evidence whether three or 17 intelligence agencies agree, and whether Congress says so or not. Under Putin, Russia has used cyber-attacks and propaganda through the planting of fake stories on social media as part of their hybrid warfare campaign across Europe. It has met with limited success in some Central European countries, and failure in others. The United States election was the granddaddy of them all.
It is a fact of life that foreign leaders would prefer certain candidates to win elections. The Obama administration weighed in favorably for Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents in Israel. Obama himself weighed in on the Brexit vote. And, given the campaign rhetoric in 2016, I am sure most foreign leaders were hoping for a Clinton victory over Trump. And so it may very well have been that Putin wanted Trump to win. But that doesn’t answer the important question: Why?
One proffered reason is Trump’s statements on the campaign trail. At one point, he seemed to suggest that the Russian annexation of Crimea was legitimate which would have put us with some dubious international actors like Cuba and Venezuela. Trump also questioned long-standing alliances like NATO and suggested a trade war with China and/or Mexico- all actions that could benefit Russia.
Of course, none of these things have come to pass and Trump has spoken positively of the need for NATO, has backed off some rhetoric regarding trade wars, and has spoken nary a word about the Crimea or Ukraine (except in his speech in Poland). No sanctions have been lifted against Russia.
If one believes that what Trump said on the campaign trail indicates some kind of “Russiaphilia,” then one also has to accept the reasoning of courts to strike down Trump’s travel ban from certain Muslim countries. They used his campaign statements as justification to prove an animus towards Muslims. Likewise, using Trump’s statements on the campaign trail is being used as a justification for the alleged “bromance” between Trump and Putin.
It is inconceivable that Putin wanted Trump to win because he saw Trump as a better ally. But in fact, Putin was counting on and predicting a Clinton victory. News stories in Russia kept a close watch on the election and had been running stories of how Bernie Sanders was cheated out of the Democratic nomination. Their stories were dominated by how the corrupt Hillary Clinton had used the Clinton Foundation to curry international favors while she was Secretary of State. All of this was done by Russian media to portray the United States as a corrupt democracy, not to bolster the chances of Donald Trump.
We further know that Putin was going to recall his Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, prior to the election, but delayed that action believing Kislyak would be a better fit to deal with a Clinton administration. Everything out of Russia, and actions by the Russian government indicated that Putin fully expected a Clinton victory. Hence, it makes no sense why Putin would want to antagonize the next expected president through open support of her opponent. Yet, obviously hacking occurred on the part of the Russian government.
When looked at objectively, the bombshell revelations from those hacking efforts never really materialized. They were fodder for those within the DC loop and very few outside. The public did not sit by the TV screen every night waiting for the latest Wikileaks dump (except Sean Hannity).
Instead, the hacking played a greater role in forming public opinion in Russia. The constant drip of leaks showed to the Russian people the “decadence” of liberal Western democracy and the “sanctity” of our elections. To Putin and the Russian people, every leak proved the US elections were rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton. Those leaks showed that the Clinton campaign was in bed with the American media. Donald Trump had no chance and it was all because the system was rigged. Trump echoed these sentiments as perhaps he or his advisers read Russian news reports.
If Clinton had won, Putin would have had a predictable President in the White House, but one that he could deal with nevertheless. But Putin is not stupid. He also knew that her base would be a check on an aggressive, militaristic foreign policy despite her “hawkish” rhetoric.
Conversely, what would a potential Trump victory bring him? He would have to hope that Trump made good on campaign promises regarding trade wars with China and Mexico, shun NATO, disengage from the world stage as he “made America great again,” and possibly attempt closer ties with Russia.
On the other hand, he would have to hope that Trump DID NOT keep his campaign promises to build up the military, to make strong free trade deals, or most importantly to Putin and Russia, expand energy production in the US thus driving down global energy prices. Energy drives the Russian economy and Putin’s hold on the people, and declining oil and natural gas prices on the international market have hurt the Russian economy more than any sanctions.
To suggest that Putin would have preferred Trump over Clinton is tempered by reality- namely, the unpredictability of a Trump presidency. He knew what he had in Clinton and to suggest that Putin and Russia were somehow afraid of a President Hillary Clinton is ludicrous from the get-go. Despite her “hawkish” rhetoric on the campaign trail, Putin was no more afraid of Clinton than he was of his shadow.
In fact, one can say that the surprising and unanticipated Trump victory in November was an unwelcome piece of news in Russia. After celebrating his victory, notice how the rhetoric from Russia had abated. The narrative of a rigged election won by a crooked career politician vanished into thin air. They were not celebrating that Trump had won; they were celebrating that Clinton lost. In effect, Putin lost a great domestic talking point!!
Furthermore, there is no doubt that Putin had a strong dislike for Hillary Clinton no matter who she was running against in 2016. If Ted Cruz were the President today, we would be hearing about Cruz-Russian collusion. As demonstrators took to the streets in Russia in 2011 and 2012 to protest the parliamentary elections and the election of Putin to a third term as president, he and his inner circle became convinced the United States and particularly Hillary Clinton were behind the protests. In fact, before any reports were received by observers in Russia, Clinton had asserted the elections were suspect, dishonest, and unfair. In 2014, Clinton compared Putin’s actions in Europe to those of Hitler. When asked in an interview on French television about the accusation, Putin disdainfully answered:
It’s better not to argue with women. But Ms Clinton has never been too graceful in her statements. Still, we always met afterwards and had cordial conversations at various international events. I think even in this case we could reach an agreement. When people push boundaries too far, it’s not because they are strong but because they are weak. But maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman.
Does this sound like a man afraid of Hillary Clinton? In fact, it sounds like a world leader with an ax to grind against Hillary Clinton and a ton of disdain.
The motive behind Russian interference in the 2016 election was not to get Donald Trump elected. It was designed to play to Putin’s domestic audience whose allegiance he needs and he achieved that goal by towing the line about a corrupt political system in a decadent America. Ironically, now that the opposite became the reality- Trump was elected- it is the American media and politicians beating the drum which continues the drama started by Putin.
A story that should have died as soon as the Russians stopped celebrating Trump’s victory in December, 2016 is kept alive by many here in the United States and some at Redstate. No matter how you look at it, Putin wins and those here in the US are the true dupes of Vladimir Putin.