March 21, 2017
It is now accepted fact, in that any fact is actually accepted these days, that Russia hacked the U.S. election to hurt Clinton and help Trump. I don’t dispute that. I do take issue, however, with the implied explanation, put forth originally by Clinton herself and accepted unquestioningly by the media, that Putin did so because he wanted Trump to win as simplistic and self-congratulatory.
The idea that Clinton put forth is that Putin wanted to prevent her from winning the election because he was so afraid of a Clinton presidency because Clinton would be so tough on Russia and that would be so bad for Putin. Let’s look at how bad the Obama Administration, whose foreign policy Clinton led, was for Russia. Before Obama, Russia had been a primarily regional power. Obama himself mocked anyone who would dare call Russia a rival as being stuck in the 1980s. Under the Obama Administration, this 1980s non-rival annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine, openly supported Iran, and bombed Syria. Now they are a global power flexing their muscle worldwide. It’s kind of hard to believe Putin was shaking in his boots at a continuation of the status quo.
(The alternative explanation was that Putin wanted Trump to win because Trump was an inexperienced boob who Putin could walk all over. This is more believable.)
My belief is that, rather than trying to influence the outcome of the election, Putin was trying to undermine and weaken Hillary Clinton, the incoming president. Remember, before the election, everybody thought Clinton was going to win. FiveThirtyEight, which I cite constantly because I consider them the gold standard in data-based election analysis, was the voice in the wilderness calling out that Trump could win. They gave him about a one in three shot, meaning even they had Clinton as a heavy favorite. Other models, which admittedly seemed laughable even at the time, gave her greater than a 99% shot.
The conventional wisdom was worse. The New York Times, admittedly hardly a paragon of journalistic integrity, was writing articles before the election as if Clinton had already won. The media, overwhelmed by the groupthink and unthinkability biases that consume them to this day, reported the race in this light. And without going into too much detail, Trump’s victory did, in fact, require a perfect storm of circumstances that allowed him to squeak by in the Electoral College while the popular vote played out the way it was expected. The point is everyone in America thought it was a pretty sure thing Clinton would win. Why would Putin think any different?
Even if Putin did have an inclination Trump would win, he still would have taken the same course of action. In a sense, hacking the election to help Trump and hurt Clinton was a win-win proposition. If Clinton wins, fine. She’s weakened by the revelations. If Trump wins, you wind up with an investigation into how a hostile foreign power helped the sitting president obtain his office, and with that president being weakened and undermined. Hacking, when done well, should leave no trace. It’s a little suspect that everybody knew, from day one, exactly who was responsible, especially given the diplomatic implications. If Putin’s goal was to undermine and weaken the U.S. President, then he really couldn’t have lost by this hacking strategy. Putin didn’t care who won. He just wanted the winner de-legitimized. It appears he’s succeeded.