How Conservatives Are Talking About Russia’s Alleged Meddling in the U.S. Election

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Photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images

Last week’s report that the CIA concluded Russia meddled in the U.S. election to help Donald Trump, and not just to disrupt the democratic process in general, sparked a furor on the left, intensifying calls for congressional investigations, an intelligence briefing for Electoral College voters, and retaliation against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some on the right share concerns about Russians passing to Wikileaks hacked emails from the accounts of Democratic officials – the call for a Senate investigation is bipartisan – but conservative media has taken a far different view of the issue. While opinions vary, the general consensus is that liberals are overstating the significance of Russia’s alleged meddling in an effort to shift the blame for their loss from Hillary Clinton, and undermine Trump’s presidency.

Some on the right questioned the validity of the Washington Post’s report on the CIA’s conclusions, noting that it relies on anonymous sources, and other intelligence agencies have not said they reached the same finding. The Trump campaign said of the CIA, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” and Erick Erickson echoed that response. He said it’s ironic that Democrats embraced the CIA’s reported findings so quickly, when for years they’ve been declaring that “Bush Lied” but ignoring CIA director George Tenet’s assessment that the case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a “slam dunk.” He said:

The Central Intelligence Agency does a great deal of good, but for the last several decades the political left, including President Obama before he became president, routinely noted how much the CIA got wrong. They were wrong about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They missed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. They missed the rise of Fidel Castro. They missed the fall of the Shah of Iran.

There is more than a bit of irony that the Democrats, who have spent decades telling everyone not to believe the CIA, suddenly want us to believe the CIA after their side lost an election they expected to win. Meanwhile, the FBI and the Director of National Intelligence are thus far refusing to back up the CIA’s claims.

The Democrats told us that Hillary Clinton lost the election because of James Comey and the FBI. Then they told us that she lost because the media was unfair to her. Now they are telling us she did not actually lose, but the Russians stole the election.

American Thinker’s Jonathan F. Keiler doubted how U.S. intelligence analysts could be so confident in their conclusions about Russia’s motives:

As an adjective, Byzantine means complex or convoluted, and the Russians are the direct heirs to the actual Byzantine empire. Trying to divine Russian intentions and motivations is notoriously difficult, and the analysts I worked with, though among the best in the business, were frequently wrong and quite conscious of their limitations. Not only that, but the Russians are masters of espionage and disinformation, making the job of figuring out real, as opposed to manufactured, intentions all the more difficult.

In National Review, Jonah Goldberg argued that Russia might have been helping Trump in an effort to erode confidence in the U.S. democratic process, though they didn’t actually think he would win:

The hacking could have started with mere mischief in mind and evolved into a pro-Trump effort by the end. Most experts, including those on Trump’s team, didn’t expect to win (contrary to a lot of post-election spin), and it’s doubtful that Russia’s psephologists are that much better than ours. So the most likely goal for the Russians was to set up a defeated Trump to denounce the validity of the election and the integrity of the political process.

But then Trump won on the merits. The great irony is that the Democrats and the media – which not long ago were denouncing any suggestion that the system is rigged – are now echoing the very talking points Putin wants.

Also writing in National Review, Andrew McCarthy said the report of pro-Trump Russian meddling belongs in the “Chutzpah Hall of Fame.” He argues that “the Democrat-media complex” complained when Trump, unable to produce evidence of election “rigging,” claimed he was merely referring to biased new coverage. He says Democrats are now doing the same thing:

The Democrats and their media note takers started out telling us that the Russians had “hacked” the election. But when hard proof is demanded, they must admit that there is not a scintilla of suggestion that Putin’s intelligence operatives tampered with votes — in fact, since most of the polling is not online, there’s not even evidence that an election could be hacked. So now, Democrats have moved the goal post: What they meant by “hacked,” we’re told, is not really vote fraud but blatantly biased leaking — the Democrats’ embarrassing communications were exposed while the GOP’s remained concealed. So … where is the ridicule? You’re not hearing it because the media is hoping you won’t notice the Democrats’ climb down. They made an absurd “hacking the election” allegation that they can’t back up. At most, what happened here is: The Russians did to Democrats exactly what the media does to Republicans — they subjected one side to intense scrutiny while giving the other side a pass.

… The fact that they think one side or the other would be better for them does not make it so. More to the point, unless there is evidence that the meddlers have fiddled with the vote count, who cares? Under our law, it is permissible to sway the outcome of an election based on false information — just ask Harry Reid. What’s the Democrat-media complaint? That there was too much true information?

Others shrugged off the allegations, saying Russia’s alleged behavior is nothing out of the ordinary. Writing in The Daily Caller, John Linder said the Russians and Israelis have been “trying to influence our elections for decades,” and it’s likely our allies do the same. He continued:

Our government tries to affect the elections of other nations too. President Obama’s last campaign manager Jim Messina advised the British Conservative Party in 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015 and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s failing referendum this year. He was paid 400,000 Euros in that losing cause.

Do you think for a moment that Jim Messina would be involved in a foreign election that worked against the interests of President Obama? Me neither.

The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations reports that within weeks after the Israeli Knesset voted to schedule new national parliamentary elections for March 2015 an international organization known as the OneVoice Movement launched a multimillion-dollar grassroots campaign in Israel to defeat Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.OneVoice received more than $300,000 in grants from the U.S. State Department. To lead its grass roots efforts OneVoice turned to none other than Obama’s 2012 field director Jeremy Bird.

Netanyahu defeated his opponent and the efforts of the Obama administration without a whine.

D.W. Wilber said that he takes allegations of foreign meddling in U.S. elections seriously, but as a former intelligence officer, he considers the CIA’s Russia findings a “non-story.” In a column on Townhall, he suggested the Washington establishment is playing up reports of election meddling to hurt Trump:

Intelligence agencies of countries unfriendly or adversarial towards the United States trying to interfere and influence in our elections has been a fact for nearly as long as we’ve been holding our national elections. The former Soviet Union regularly supported the candidate for the Communist Party of the USA in elections, and also attempted to introduce news stories that were more favorable towards the mainstream candidate who they were least opposed to.

Is it a surprise that news items that were uncomplimentary towards then candidate Ronald Reagan found their way into America’s so-called “mainstream media” during the 1980 and 1984 elections? Reagan scared the Soviets and they pulled out all the stops to try to influence the election between Reagan and Jimmy Carter – the Soviet’s preferred candidate – and later between Reagan and Walter Mondale.

The current attempts to discredit Trump’s presidency – and make no mistake that’s what’s going on here - are nothing more than a despicable attempt to cast a shadow over Trump’s election. And quite possible to provide cover for the “Washington Cartel” to once again do anything but the bidding of the American people.

Some columnists said Russia’s possible role in leaking emails was irrelevant because everything put out was true, and if Democrats had nothing to hide they wouldn’t be complaining. Noting that the Huffington Post (actually the former CIA acting director Mike Morell) called Russia’s interference “the political equivalent of 9/11,” Bruce Thornton said in FrontPage Magazine:

To believe that, you’d have to believe the leaked chit-chat of the DNC and Hillary’s staffers convinced about 100,000 voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan to vote for Trump instead of Hillary. You’d have to believe those voters ignored Hillary’s 25 years of lying and money-grubbing, her pay-for-play State Department, her utter lack of any vision or policy prescriptions other than decrepit progressive bromides, her lousy campaign, her questionable health, her lack of trustworthiness, and her intentionally putting national security at risk with her private server, but then balked at her flunkeys’ trading snarky gossip and pulling dirty tricks on the Sanders and Trump campaigns. And let’s not forget that harping on who hacked the emails or why is not as important as their content––not because they changed the election, but because they revealed the sleazy tactics and sordid chicanery of the holier-than-thou DNC.

Derek Hunter said at Town Hall that the email hackers should be prosecuted for their crimes, but “their identities and motives don’t matter:”

People saw the Democrats for who they were. No foreign entity or random hacker made them be themselves; they did that all on their own.

Democrats didn’t lose because some random Democratic National Committee staffer made a gay joke or interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile unethically slid Clinton a couple of forum questions in advance.

Democrats lost because Hillary Clinton was a horrible candidate who ran as if she were guaranteed victory. She didn’t run her campaign as if it were hers to lose, she ran it as if it were simply hers.

No hacker, Russian or otherwise, convinced Clinton to ignore Michigan and completely skip Wisconsin. No outside entity forced Hillary to set up a secret email server while Secretary of State. And no outfit, foreign or domestic, caused any of those emails to be written, any of those discussions to occur or any of those lies to be told. Democrats and members of the Clinton campaign did that all by themselves.

Bloomberg View’s Ramesh Ponnuru said all sides should want to see investigations into the hacks, but since voters knew of Russia’s suspected involvement, Democrats can’t claim that the election was unfair:

Voters were free to consider this information, or not, and to take account of its illicit origins. At the time, they had good reason to know that Russia had a hand in its dissemination. Russian hacking came up in two of the presidential debates (even though Trump now bizarrely insists it didn’t). Clinton said the hacking was being done for Trump’s benefit. The main thing we have learned since the election, assuming the reporting holds up, is that U.S. intelligence officials agreed with her about the motive.

Again, Russia’s interference ought to be investigated – as should U.S. cybersecurity practices, and President Barack Obama’s dithering in response to the interference. Americans should be able to agree on the need for further investigation regardless of their sympathies in this election.

Clinton’s supporters, meanwhile, can’t be faulted for regretting the choices that an electoral majority of their fellow citizens made. But the voters had access to the information they needed to put the leaks about the Democrats in context, their choice was made freely, their choices were tabulated accurately, and the result is being decided in the standard way. Like it or not, Trump was elected legitimately.

According to the Daily Caller’s David Landau, the far bigger injustice was President Obama using his influence to help his preferred successor:

In law, nothing forbids a sitting president from campaigning for a successor. But custom has run strongly against it. And the oddity of Clinton’s legal position–to say it nicely–would have counseled many a president against playing that role.

But not this president; he betook himself into the fray as if nothing were amiss. The First Lady came right along with him. And when Donald Trump raised a question about something the First Lady had said, many of the media opened fire on Trump.

Blaming the Russians for our election result while giving a pass to the president is nonsensical. We are a sovereign nation with plenty of skill in Realpolitik; we should be ready for foreign threats and able to dispel them.

By the same token, we should never countenance the partisan abuses of a sitting president.

It’s always risky to talk about what “history will show.” But at the end of all the investigations, we are likely to see that President Obama’s interventions in this election carried far more weight than that of the Russians.

Andrew Malcom faulted Obama for how the U.S. responded to Russia’s reported cybercrimes, saying it fits with the overall legacy of his administration: “No consequences.” He wrote in McClatchy:

Besides complaining publicly, has the Obama administration done something, anything, besides whine about being victimized by hackers? Maybe take responsibility and tighten security?

And why did alleged hacking only bother Obama after a Republican victory, not his own two?

In 2012, Obama mocked Mitt Romney for suggesting Russia was our top geopolitical foe. Now it’s expedient for the Democrat and minions to ensure the focus is on Moscow as foe. After all this time and those breaches, and only in his final meaningless month, does Obama order a report (which will be largely secret) allegedly to explore the allegedly Russian threats.

Because, see, that way the public discussion won’t be where it belongs: On how, after eight long years under Barack Obama, the cybersecurity of America’s government and even the president’s own political party remain so pathetically vulnerable?

Ben Shapiro said Republicans “have noted that Democrats’ hysterics over Russian manipulation seems hypocritical,” arguing that the left was soft on Russia throughout the Obama administration. He argues they’re right, but there’s a catch: Republicans are hypocrites on Russia too:

… Trump questioned whether the Russians were behind the hacks at all. That’s no surprise – he spent most of the election cycle lathering up Putin’s bare chest, congratulating him for his strength and equating his murder of journalists with some unspecified American sins. Trump then nominated Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state, a man who received the Order of Friendship from Putin in 2011.

So, what are Republicans doing during all of this? Capitulating. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls the Tillerson pick wonderful – the same Newt Gingrich who said in 2012 that Putin “represents a dictatorial approach that’s very violent.” (Of course, Gingrich now gives a lecture to the Heritage Foundation on the principles of Trumpism, so that’s not much of a surprise.) Sean Hannity has accused anyone with questions about Russian hacking of simply wanting to undermine Trump. He said, “If all of these people care so much about these Russian allegations, then why didn’t they feel the same way about Hillary Clinton’s private server scandal?” We did! In fact, we spent years ripping Clinton apart. And now we’d like to know why Putin’s hacking is all right. By the way, Hannity used to care about Russian interference and aggression. In March 2012, he called Putin a “huge problem,” and in June 2013, he lamented that Putin was “laughing at the Obama admin’s request to extradite Snowden back to the U.S.” Now he wants Julian Assange, who is allegedly working with Putin, freed (in 2010 he wanted him jailed).

Here’s the problem with the hypocrisy argument: You have to be nonhypocritical in order to make that charge. So long as Republicans are so intent on backing Trump’s play that they act like hypocrites, it’s going to be difficult to point out just how hypocritical Democrats are.
How the Right Is Talking About Russia’s Election Meddling