Russia Isn’t an Excuse to Avoid Introspection

Some think that every time anyone writes about Russia it means that the left is avoiding taking responsibility for losing the election and therefore won’t learn important lessons. Some think that every non-Clinton primary or general election voter on the left is afraid to admit they were wrong that they could savage or not support the candidate without consequence, and so they are petrified to admit that anything other than Clinton’s and the Democratic leadership’s failures can explain the catastrophe that has befallen our nation.

Let me put this debate in some context. Here’s a poll:

President Trump’s approval rating has tumbled 11 points since March, according to a new poll released Monday.

Thirty-four percent of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance in the latest Investor’s Business Daily (IBD)/TechnoMetrica Institute of Policy and Politics (TIPP) survey.

Fifty-six percent disprove of Trump’s showing instead, and Monday’s results mark an 11-point drop in Trump’s approval rating since the president’s 45 percent last month in the same poll.

I’m not cherrypicking an outlier poll here. While the TIPP survey has the lowest approval for Trump yet (34 percent), the overall downward trend and disapproval in the low-to-mid-fifties is consistent across all the polls that have come out recently. The president is tanking.

Now, the purpose of writing about Russia isn’t to hurt Trump’s poll numbers, but it certainly hasn’t been helping him. We can talk about agency, since obviously Trump is the most self-injurious politician we’ve seen since Anthony Weiner. How much is the Russia issue hurting him versus his horrible health care bill, or his odious travel ban, or his failure to get the Mexicans to pay for his wall? And isn’t he more responsible than anyone for keeping the Russia issue alive with all his unhinged tweeting about it being a witch hunt and fake news?

All I can say is that there’s no evidence that Trump is benefiting in any way from pretty much anything, and certainly not because liberal columnists and bloggers and television hosts won’t let up on Russia.

Everyone has their pet theory about how the Democrats should be different, and what you’ll notice before long is that all the people who are asking folks to shut up about Russia are really asking them to talk about their pet theory instead.

For them, admitting that money and media affect elections is easy when it’s the Koch Brothers exploiting Citizens United, but when it’s Russians manipulating their Facebook feed, that’s a threat to their worldview that all would be rosy if only Sanders had been nominated or Clinton had campaigned in Wisconsin or neoliberalism had been strangled in the crib.

These rearview battles are the real distraction. The president is bleeding like a stuck pig, and people want to run to his rescue because it’s all a big distraction from the thing they really care about.

Like I said, the Russia issue isn’t about hurting the president’s poll numbers. It’s about our foreign policy and the integrity of our elections and potential corruption and disloyalty in our public officials. But the polls do tell a story, and that story is that Trump isn’t winning this fight or this argument.

It’s just bizarre that people will freak out about voter suppression and lax campaign finance laws but shrug off an entire nation state throwing its weight into one side of an election.

The left needs to do some serious naval-gazing, no doubt, but talking about Russia isn’t going to prevent that from happening. And if we don’t prevent what happened last time from happening again, we’ll be fighting with both arms tied behind our backs no matter how good our platform and messaging turn out to be.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.