So, we’re finally all in agreement that Russia meddled in our elections. Now, we must come to an agreement about Vladimir Putin’s motivation. William F. Buckley had a rule to boil down complicated electoral calculations: Support the most viable, conservative candidate. Putin has one, too. Support whomever will distract America the most. Call it the Putin Rule.
If we use that lens to view Putin’s actions, then lurking in Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE’s blockbuster indictment last week is an obvious question. What if Putin supports Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse Republicans bash Democrats' China competition bill Man seen wearing 'Camp Auschwitz' sweatshirt on Jan. 6 pleads guilty to trespassing Democrats should ignore Senators Manchin and Sinema MORE in 2018?
Of course, this implies that there is an element of truth in President TrumpDonald TrumpNorth Korea conducts potential 6th missile test in a month Kemp leading Perdue in Georgia gubernatorial primary: poll US ranked 27th least corrupt country in the world MORE’s neurotic hate-tweeting over the weekend. Democrat partisans are too engrossed with winning the immediate news cycle, so they are unnecessarily focused on proving it wrong. Trump is too focused on the news cycle, too, or he would realize that Putin’s support is no compliment.
Bottom line: Russia’s chief goal is chaos.
Yes, as the Putin Rule would indicate, once the contest came down to a binary choice between Trump and Clinton, the Russians clearly promoted Trump. Even before that, they viewed him as a chaos all-star whose corruption and incompetence no doubt made Putin giddy, but his potential to enfeeble the U.S. — not his politics — attracted Putin to Trump.
So, if you were Vladimir Putin, with said chaos all-star “running” the White House, and neither political party serious about defending the country, how would you further your “strategic goal to sow discord,” as Bob Mueller put it? What could be more chaotic than a hyper-partisan Pelosi squaring off against a hyper-partisan Trump?
Ponder, for a moment, the pandemonium. Republican House Intelligence Committee leader Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesSunday shows preview: US reaffirms support for Ukraine amid threat of Russian invasion Florida Rep. Cherfilus-McCormick sworn in as newest House member GOP lawmaker adheres to term limit pledge, won't run for reelection MORE (R-Calif.) would emerge from his bunker to accuse Russia of election meddling. Democratic committee leader Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffMask rules spark political games and a nasty environment in the House CIA says 'Havana syndrome' unlikely a result of 'worldwide campaign' by foreign power The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta MORE (D-Calif.) would gleefully adopt Trump’s talking point that the Russian effort was not decisive. The Democrats’ giddy calls for Impeachment would fade to White House demands for investigation. Julian Assange would stop cohosting Hannity and join Rachael Maddow. Trump may even say nice things about Mueller, and on and on.
In short, chaos.
The Kremlin has a terrible historical track record of understanding American politics, but keen political observation is not required to see that the Republican and Democrat parties mainly care about the culture war these days. Does anyone doubt that Trump and Pelosi would put American world leadership second to cultural trench warfare it in a bid to electrify their bases? These two baby boomers — a generation that gives it all to the Culture War — would burn the house down reprising one last geriatric re-litigation of Woodstock. And it would be beyond the Kremlin’s wildest dreams.
A wild imagination isn’t necessary, just a little historical perspective. Putin is no creative genius. This is his M.O. After President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair went out of their way to include Putin in the Middle East Quarter, he sought to sideline the U.S. President Bush got lost in Putin’s eyes and vouched for his soul before the nation. Putin then spent the next six years humiliating him. President Obama gave Putin a reset button, along with anything else Putin requested. We know how that story ended.
Now that people are looking at Russian electoral interference under a microscope they may recall that Putin supported Obama, and possibly Bush, as well — both promised better relations with Russia. Putin stayed mum, at first, but as an election approached, the relationship soured (notice a pattern?). When it comes to American political dysfunction and enabling naïve American foreign policy, Putin has shown no indication that he is anything but bipartisan. Nor, were Putin’s actions necessarily unique.
Smart partisans should prepare for the possibility that Putin could “switch sides” (as an aside, remember that he’s on Russia’s side, something too many of both parties seem to forget, blinded by an “enemy-of-my-enemy” mentality).
Putin has made no bones about his intentions: He intends to humiliate the U.S and debase the coin of American leadership. And, of course, it only helps him that we are discussing Russia, a third word country, all the time. Trump, Fox News and GOP partisans have shown no shame in repeating Kremlin talking points. Hannity and others on the right have made liberal use of "whataboutism," a hallmark of Soviet agitprop and literally RT’s corporate motto. But the Democrats give no indication that their partisanship would lead to any other result.
And both parties need to consider why it may be that that Putin sees them both as eligible suitors.
Kristofer Harrison worked for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and was a foreign policy advisor to Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. He is a co-founder and principal of ITJ Strategies, a grassroots PR consultancy.