Did the Russians try to interfere with last November’s Presidential election? Without a doubt. Were there conversations between Russian representatives and members of the Trump campaign team? Very likely. Did the Russians succeed in altering the outcome of the election in any way, or was the Trump campaign complicit in their attempts? Absolutely not.
What do I base this conclusion on? Having an actual understanding of how campaigns are run and won, what’s possible, and what’s impossible. And quite frankly, any thinking person who actually takes a few moments to study the 2016 presidential campaign will come to the same conclusions.
But let’s be honest, there are some who are so disappointed and stunned by the choice Americans made, so disbelieving of the results, they are remarkably susceptible to believing almost anything. They are absolutely convinced that something must be amiss.
The Democrats, along with too many in the news media, keep obsessing on creating a nexus between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. This is rooted in their relentless desire to prove that Trump won through some nefarious means. How else do you explain so many blue collar Democrats in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin voting for Trump? With mass hypnosis ruled out, the Russians have been selected as the most plausible culprit to sell to the American people.
There are some who are so disappointed and stunned by the choice Americans made, so disbelieving of the results, they are remarkably susceptible to believing almost anything.
The truth is that no one has given a credible explanation of what the Russians actually did, or even could do, to change or affect the outcome. The most concerning scenario would be actual evidence that the Russians somehow hacked state voting machines, and manipulated the outcomes. But Republican and Democrat officials, including President Obama, have universally agreed this never happened.
So let’s start reviewing all the other possibilities. Could the Russians have secretly funneled millions of dollars to the Trump campaign? No, it would have showed up on the spending side when contributions and expenditures didn’t match. Other than trying to flood cash in the form of “street money,” which would likely be immediately exposed, it is virtually impossible to spend significant dollars that remain undetected.
Could the Russians have worked anonymously behind the scenes to provide unmatched strategic advice, sophisticated polling, or innovative TV commercials far superior to the abilities of American pollsters and media consultants? I think you would find unanimous agreement that American consultants on both sides of the aisle are far more advanced than political consultants anywhere else in the world. I would go as far as to say if an entire team of Russian strategists showed up daily to Trump Tower, it would add no real value. So let’s also rule that one out.
On a recent appearance on one of the most popular shows on MSNBC, I asked the host what he thought the Russians did to help Trump. He mentioned that they ran very negative stories about Hillary on Russian TV. I’m going out on a limb on this one, but I’m guessing for most Americans the main source of their political news is not broadcast in Moscow.
On another talk show appearance, I directly asked the Clinton campaign Communications Director what she believed the Russians did to hurt their efforts? She mentioned the hacking and leaking of sensitive emails. This has certainly never been proven, but let’s ignore any irony of that claim, and for the moment assume she is correct. So the real smoking gun is that the Russians publically exposed that the DNC and Hillary’s campaign secretly conspired to game the system to the detriment of Bernie Sanders?
Ok, where is the conspiracy? There is absolute no logical or strategic reason the Russian’s needed to collude with the Trump campaign to leak this information. They could simply do it on their own. So if these problematic revelations really did hurt the Clinton campaign, there are two parties that are responsible: The Russians for hacking and leaking, and the Clinton campaign for colluding with the DNC in the first place. But not the Trump campaign.
Furthermore, there seems to be little empirical evidence that exposing the DNC/Clinton exchanges had any real impact on the race. The most scandalous emails were leaked to the public in July. According to the Real Clear Politics (RCP) poll average, Clinton’s lead in the race actually increased in the weeks that followed.
The Russians' penchant for meddling could lead one to conjecture that quite possibly they acquired other damaging information on Clinton that was covertly passed off to the Trump campaign for them to exploit. Possibly even a full dossier of salacious material from years of spying on Clinton. But can anyone name a single piece of negative information about Hillary distributed by the Trump campaign where the source was a mystery? I think not.
Let’s be clear, the “witch hunt” now underway has absolutely nothing to do with getting to the bottom of the facts, and everything to do with the 2018 elections. And until someone comes up with a single piece of evidence that proves the Russians coordinated with the Trump campaign resulting in the change of a single vote, how about we start worrying about real issues.
John Brabender is the Chief Creative Officer and managing partner of BrabenderCox, one of the nation’s premiere political and Public Affairs media firms.