“I will tell you this about Russia, if they had anything on me, it would have come out a long time ago, probably a long time before I ran, because they would have been much better off,” President Trump said on Fox News on Wednesday evening.
Until Sunday, it was an article of faith among American liberals that Donald Trump somehow benefitted from the Russian interference in his election campaign. It is time to re-examine that theory.
There are many issues between the United States and Russia but the most fundamental is how much each spends to defend itself against the other. Trump would always favor more military spending than Hillary. This is much more consequential for Russia. America is such a prosperous country that it is not a choice between guns and butter. We buy both. The Russian economy, not well-diversified and reliant on commodity prices, is far more fragile.
Putin has launched a new arms race, and considers competition with the West to be matter of national pride. It is expensive, and will affect the quality of life for average Russians. Putin has managed to keep a lid on civil unrest, but it always lurks in the background as the only real threat to him and his cronies. It would have been a much cheaper proposition with President Hillary.
Putin would also enjoy predictability in how President Hillary would respond to his ongoing efforts to destabilize neighboring states that were once either Soviet territory or within its sphere of influence. President Obama whined long and hard about the annexation of the Crimea but both parties knew that there would be nothing stronger.
Putin is not impulsive or reckless in seeking to restore the Russian empire. Indeed, he is patient and calculating. And he is already winning. Would he prefer predictable progress with Hillary in the White House, or the unpredictable in Trump, who is now providing lethal military aid to Ukraine? What would happen when Putin’s ambitions are greater, and the target is Estonia or Lithuania? Who would Putin rather stare down?
In Hillary Clinton, the Russians had a known quality, and they knew it to be pretty low. Various Russian interests with ties to the Kremlin kicked in hundreds of thousands to the Clinton Foundation, like so many other influence seekers around the world. It was Hillary, even more so than Trump, who confirmed the Russian view of the West, that politicians were handmaidens to the capitalists who really ran things. The Uranium One deal confirmed, if nothing else did, that Hillary could be bought at the expense of American national interests.
Among American liberals, it is Trump who epitomized the amorality of the capitalist class. The theory went that Trump was so slippery that he would sell out to the oligarchs who want to restore their ability to invest and travel in the United States. There is no evidence that the oligarchs themselves ever believed this.
And then there is Trump’s demeanor. To some, his bluntness and bombast suggest that he is a “strong man” in the same sense as Putin, so therefore the two must have an affinity for each other. This is a cartoon character view of the world, based on nothing except enmity for Trump and his policies.
There is no doubt that Russia meddled in American politics and continues to do so. Some of the efforts were even disguised to be pro-Trump. The truth is that the Kremlin did not favor Trump over Clinton but sought to sow discord. The Russians surely believed Trump was going to lose, just like everyone else. When Trump shocked the world on election night, the Russian agitprop operation shifted gears to organizing on and off-line anti-Trump demonstrations that received wide coverage by CNN and the rest.
A more longstanding article of faith on the Left is the venality of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy, who wantonly and recklessly impugned and ruined the reputations of innocent people by linking them to Russian Communism. The opening of the Soviet archives in the Nineties did nothing to undermine the left’s folklore even though document after document tended to buttress McCarthy’s main charges, even if they did not vindicate his methods.
During the 2016 campaign, an even more fantastical charge was made than anything from the 1950s. The Republican nominee for the presidency was accused of having an allegiance not to the United States but to Russia. This charge was made and repeated by members of Congress and high government officials, not the least of whom was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. By 2018, John Brennan would be tweeting that Trump was “wholly in the pocket of Putin.”
Donald Trump is the victim of the biggest “McCarthyite” smear in history. Now that it has been exposed, it is also time to put to rest the related falsehood that Russia wanted Trump to win.
Peter Flaherty is chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, an organization promoting ethics in public life through research, investigation, education and legal action.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.