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June 23rd, 2017

Insight

Trump and the Russian hacking claims: a toxic situation

Jonah Goldberg

By Jonah Goldberg

Published Dec. 14, 2016

Of course Donald Trump thinks it's "ridiculous" to claim the Russians rigged the election for him.

Even if Vladimir Putin confessed to the crime on Russia Today, Trump would not believe it, because to do so is not in his nature. I do not want to shock the reader, but Trump has a very high opinion of himself and a tendency to reject evidence that contradicts that opinion, combined with an eagerness to find corroboration of his self-regard wherever possible. For instance, during the campaign he could never concede that online polls weren't scientific, because the results of these polls confirmed that Trump was terrific, fabulous and tremendous.

So there was nothing shocking about Trump's behavior over the weekend.

"Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace asked, "According to the Washington Post, the CIA has concluded that Russia intervened in the election to help you win the presidency. Your reaction?"

Trump's response:

"I think it's ridiculous. I think it's just another excuse. I don't believe it. I don't know why, and I think it's just -- you know, they talked about all sorts of things. Every week, it's another excuse. We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College. I guess the final numbers are now at 306. ... No, I don't believe that at all."

See? Wallace asked about a news report about a reported CIA finding, and Trump heard, "You didn't really win the elections because of Russia." (FYI, Trump's Electoral College victory ranks as the 46th biggest -- out of 58).

The good news for Trump: No credible source has claimed that the Russians won the election for the Republican candidate. To believe that, you'd have to think that the Russians tricked Clinton into deploying her campaign resources disastrously, convinced her to set up her stealth server or encouraged her to give a lackluster performance on the campaign trail. How did the Russians get Clinton to ignore Wisconsin and Michigan, I wonder?

But countless credible sources have said that the Kremlin interfered with our election. Trump and his team are foolish and irresponsible to rain scorn on that. When the New York Times reported that the Russians also hacked the Republican National Committee's servers but didn't leak the results, campaign aide Sean Spicer tweeted, "Don't miss tomorrow's [David] Sanger New York Times exclusive interview with Elvis riding his unicorn on a rainbow with Santa."

The Times story is not nearly as dispositive as Democrats claim, but it is hardly the stuff of psychedelic fantasy.

The real debate is over whether the Russian meddling -- which echoes similar meddling across Europe -- was intended to get Trump elected or simply to erode confidence in the democratic process. I fail to see how this is an either/or choice. 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.

It's a poisonous situation all around. Trump refuses to budge on his claim to a glorious, massive victory (or back off of his disturbing Putinphilia). Democrats -- and much of the media -- won't grapple with the fact that Clinton lost fair and square, and they are in desperate pursuit of excuses to reject Trump's legitimacy. Some are even working to give electors an intelligence briefing before they have to vote, presumably in an effort to overturn the election.

The only hope is that after Trump has been sworn in, both sides can revisit the issue of Putin's clearly insidious agenda, without the specter of a "do-over" coloring everything people say -- and everything Trump hears.

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Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online.

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