For well over a year now, Donald Trump has tried to sow doubt about whether or not Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election. Contrary to what Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday, the president hasn’t clearly acknowledged that fact prior to the recent Mueller indictments.
Perhaps the most glaring examples of when the president denied Russian interference came following meetings with Vladimir Putin.
“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ ” Trump said. “And I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”
In typical Trump fashion, he often contradicted himself.
In a December 2016 interview with Time, Trump said two things: He didn’t think Russia meddled, and that it might have.
“I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump said. “That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say ‘oh, Russia interfered.’”
But a moment later he said, “I believe that it could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many other people. Sources or even individuals.”
While taking an in-depth look at how the president has responded (or failed to respond) to Russian interference, the Washington Post identified the reason why Trump refused to acknowledge the facts.
In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real…
But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.
It basically comes down to that whole narcissism thing. Admitting that Russia was involved tarnishes his own view of himself as the “great one.”
With the release of the Mueller indictments against the Russians who were involved in informational warfare, Trump has finally had to admit that they interfered. Now the president has to come up with other excuses to prop up his ego. Both he and his supporters have been busy trying to do that over the last few days. Let’s take a look at what they’ve come up with.
“I was tougher than Obama”
As Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker point out, this is one of Trump’s favorite moves whenever he feels threatened.
To hear President Trump tell it, he is tougher than former president Barack Obama. He is smarter than Obama — more shrewd, more effective, more respected. The 45th president is, by his own accounting, superlative to the 44th in almost every way.
In private and in public, while devising policies and while crafting messages, Trump frequently draws flattering comparisons with his predecessor — and he does not let the truth intrude, as was the case Tuesday.
“I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts,” Trump tweeted.
Others have attempted to make this argument as well, like Jonah Goldberg and Devin Nunes. But all of that is completely negated by the facts. Obama was briefed on Russian activities in August 2016 and ordered further investigation. He attempted to persuade congressional leaders to release a bipartisan statement on the issue in September, only to be told by Majority Leader McConnell that they would accuse the president of partisan interference in the election if he went public with the intelligence. Nevertheless, the administration released a statement about Russia’s activities on October 7th. After the election, Obama expelled 35 Russians from the U.S., closed two Russian compounds and imposed sanctions on the people involved.
In contrast, the only thing Trump has done is to refuse the implementation of additional Russian sanctions that were approved by congress.
Russia’s real goal was disruption, not to help Trump
Having been forced to admit that Russia interfered, it becomes important for Trump and his supporters to claim that it had nothing to do with helping him get elected. The White House talking points about how this all started in 2014, before he announced his candidacy, are part of that argument. So are the claims that Russian interference didn’t change the outcome of the election. The folks at Investor’s Business Daily took this one a step further.
…if you read the indictments, look at the Facebook ads, the Trump “dossier” and other evidence, it becomes clear that the goal of this meddling wasn’t to elect Trump, but to create anger, hostility, bitterness, and discord in the U.S.
They are right that the goal was to create anger and discord in the U.S. But it is also true that the Russians attempted to accomplish that by both supporting Trump (and Sanders) as well as disparaging Clinton. It is the combination of those goals that is most revealing: creating discord could best be accomplished via support for Trump.
Russian’s didn’t spend much money and their efforts weren’t very effective
Ari Fleisher came up with a response that is quintessentially Republican.
Russians spent $46,000 on Facebook prior to the election. Hillary and Trump spent $81 million. We should punish Russia because the right amount they should spend is zero. But a little perspective is helpful. Russia influenced the election the same way a drop influences an ocean. https://t.co/H6G5rB00zk
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) February 19, 2018
The assumption is that only the expenditure of large sums of money is meaningful. To the extent he really believes that, he is woefully ignorant about social media.
This is essentially the same argument made by Byron York. It is worth noting that his article is titled: “A non-alarmist reading of the Mueller Russia indictment.” In other words, he just told you that if you don’t completely dismiss what the Russians attempted to do, you are an “alarmist.”
None of these arguments have anything to do with the real question that is on the table about whether the Trump campaign was involved with Russian efforts to influence the election. They are all attempts by Trump and his supporters to prop up his ego now that they have had to admit to the facts.