This is How Putin is Going to Win the U.S. Presidential Election
One of Vladimir Putin’s main goals in the 2016 presidential election was to undermine faith in American democracy. This time, he could help end American democracy altogether.
According to a recent AP-NORC poll, more than two-thirds of Democrats are concerned about potential foreign interference in November’s election, And while only 30% of Republicans also worry about foreign interference, 43% are extremely worried about mail-in voter fraud (the number shoots up to 61% for those who only consume conservative news sources).
Meanwhile, the stakes (or at least the perceived stakes) for this election couldn’t be higher. Because the one thing both sides agree on is that this is not just another election. This is THE election; the battle for the soul of America.
What this all means? That no matter who wins what many feel will be the most consequential presidential election since Abraham Lincoln’s victory in 1860 — which ignited the American Civil War — it will be very, very easy to sow doubt about the validity of the results.
And it gets worse.
The most likely election night(mare) scenario
Because of the pandemic, an unprecedented number of Americans will be voting by mail. In fact, they already are. More than 84 million absentee ballots have been sent out for the 2020 election, 40 million of which had been returned by October 26.
Now, in some states, like California, counting can begin weeks before the election, but in 15 states officials have to wait until Election Day until they can start counting absentee ballots, including in important battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, polling shows that Democrats are far more likely to vote by mail than Republicans, most of whom plan to vote in-person on Election Day. And because in-person votes will be counted faster, we will likely see a Trump victory on election night, a phenomenon known as a “red mirage.”
But as all the mail-in ballots are counted in the days that follow, the vote tally will start to swing towards Biden, a phenomenon aptly called the “blue shift.”
At this point, Trump will naturally cry that the election is “rigged,” and his supporters will need very little encouragement to take to the streets. And so it begins.
But if Biden loses, Democrats will also believe the election was rigged.
Democrats will likely not concede if Trump wins on election night, and maybe not even when it turns out the blue shift is not enough to put Biden over the top. Having been bombarded with pre-election polls showing Biden leading Trump by double digits in the weeks — months — leading up to the election (where have we seen that before?), Democrats would sooner believe the Russians have hacked the election than that Trump (TRUMP!!??) has actually won the election (time to ask Robert Mueller to come out of retirement and conduct another two-year investigation).
So, if Biden loses, Democrats will probably also take to the streets, demanding recounts, investigations, threatening secession even. Of course, the more disruptive and violent these demonstrations would get, the more of an excuse they would give President Trump to brutally end them. And so it begins.
In short, no matter who wins, Putin will hardly have to do anything for the election to devolve into a full-on street fight that could last for weeks, if not months (if not spiral into something even worse) while lawyers on both sides fight out esoteric election battles about rejected mail-in ballots, recount deadlines, and competing electoral slates in a dozen swing states.
Who does Putin want to win?
Putin has always denied he had anything to do with the 2016 election meddling, but he did admit he wanted Trump to win, “Because he [Trump] talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”
Last August, the C.I.A. published an assessment of Russian interference in the 2020 election, stating:
“We assess that President Vladimir Putin and the most senior Russian officials are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations aimed at denigrating the former U.S. Vice President, supporting the U.S. president and fueling public discord ahead of the U.S. election in November.”
It is not difficult to see why Putin favors Trump.
A Trump victory would be great for Russian interests in several ways. For one, Trump has shown little interest in foreign policy, other than alienating his NATO allies; (trying to) pressure other countries into doing unfavorable trade deals; and greenlighting counter-terrorism operations. Should Putin therefore want to (further) increase his influence in post-Soviet states and the Middle East — and he does — he will no doubt find it easier to deal with Trump than Biden.
A second Trump term — especially in combination with a Democrat-controlled Congress — would also keep America politically paralyzed, internationally isolated, and domestically mired in divisiveness and tribalism. (The latter would also plague a Biden presidency, though Biden would probably genuinely try to unify the country, as opposed to Trump.)
Thirdly, Trump has proven to be a terrible president in crisis (as his handling of the pandemic has shown), lacks any sort of long-term vision, and is easily corruptible, easily persuadable, and easily distractible — character traits that would have made Lieutenant Colonel of the KGB Vladimir Putin salivate had he found them in a potential “asset.”
There is one thing Putin would love about a Biden victory, though: the 32 million disgruntled, die-hard Trump supporters, an estimated 20 million of which are armed. Even if only 10% of those 20 million are somewhat capable of actual armed resistance, that would still be a massive army.
And like their vaunted leader, they have proven to be very susceptible to all kinds of crazy fake news. In fact, the crazier the better.
The world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles plotting against Trump? Check. Top Democrats including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and George Soros are involved in a child sex ring? Check. Leftist Democrats are secretly asking Venezuela for advice on how to turn America into a socialist country? You betcha.
How easy do you think it would be for Putin’s troll armies to flood social media with fake news screaming the “Dems” rigged the election because they want to:
- Open the borders and let in tens of millions of immigrants to supplant the white race.
- Take everyone’s guns.
- Pack the court with liberal justices to push through abortion up to a month after birth.
Right. Very easy.
And Trump will be all too willing to jump on the bandwagon, tell his supporters the election was rigged, which he said before would be “the only way we’re going to lose this election.” He will do anything to deny that he lost, stay in power, remain at the center of attention.
Still, unless a Biden win would lead to actual civil war — and it might — a Trump win would be more beneficiary to Putin in the long run.
To get Trump re-elected, though, he might have to get his hands dirty.
Could Putin actually hack the election?
It’s not impossible. Hackers could break into voting machines, state and local computer networks, and other voting-related systems in order to change voter registration information or even vote tallies. In fact, F.B.I. and Homeland Security officials say in some ways the Russians already have.
The officials also say Russian hackers have stolen data from at least two unidentified computer servers. There is no evidence that the Russians actually manipulated voter data on computer networks, though. So far, they seem to be mostly testing the systems for vulnerabilities.
They did the exact same thing in 2016. Last year, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Russia targeted election systems in all 50 states in 2016, largely intended “to search for vulnerabilities in the security of the election systems.”
If the Russians do want to hack the presidential election, they would only have to break into the election infrastructure in a few key precincts, though, as the election will likely hinge on just a few swing states.
It’s possible, but going by Russian efforts in the 2016 elections, and the type of interference they undertook in various European countries, actually changing election results is not Russia’s M.O. Rather, Russian strength lies in spreading misinformation and disinformation, sowing doubt and discord, creating chaos and division; minimum output, maximum yield.
(Interestingly, Putin’s alleged role at the KGB when he was stationed in Dresden in the 1980s was helping the radical leftist organization Red Army Faction destabilize and sow chaos in West Germany.)
Given this, it’s more likely the Russians will go with so-called perception hacks, small breaches meant to make it look like they have done far more damage than they actually did, and then use that information to sow doubt about the validity of the election results. And let’s be honest, in our current political climate, pulling that off will be a piece of cake.
In other words, Putin doesn’t really need to hack the election. He only needs to make Americans — particularly the losing side — believe that he did.
So what is Putin going to do?
If history is any guide, the Russians are going to try and sow doubt, doubt, and more doubt. They are going to flood social media with disinformation, misinformation, outright lies, everything to making the losing side believe they didn’t actually lose.
It doesn’t even matter if the election is close or not. If it’s a Biden landslide, the message will be that the election was rigged from the beginning on a massive scale. If it’s a narrow Biden win, they might leak “proof” that election systems in key states were hacked by the Chinese or the Iranians — states that want Trump to lose. The Chinese and Iranians will deny, of course, but the Trump camp would eagerly believe the Russian side of the story.
The Russians might produce doctored photographs of sacks filled with mail-in ballots for Trump, dumped in some river; “official documents” proving that top Democrats secretly negotiated with the Chinese to hack the election; and of course there would be decoded coded messages “proving” Biden is running a sex ring with Obama.
If Trump wins, the Russians might leak information with “proof” that “rogue” (though patriotic) Russian hackers were behind some nefarious forays into American voting systems. They might even make some arrests. Sacrifice a few pawns. Of course the Democrats would be up in arms, take to the streets and denounce the election results, demand a doover.
Best-case scenario: Neither winner will have a clear mandate to govern — at least not from the losing side.
Worst-case scenario: Trump won’t leave.
So what can we do?
Hands down, the best thing to do would be to close down all social media for the entire month of November. I’d say Mark Zuckerberg and his fellow social media moguls have made enough money off of our petty differences for a while. Let them do something to help America for a change, instead of continuing to enable bad actors to push us further into the swamp.
But you’re right. That’s not gonna happen.
We could try to use our common sense. Though, admittedly, that may be even more of a challenge these days.
Perhaps the best thing to do is nothing. Stay away from social media, keep our faith in American democracy, and trust that the many good people on both sides of the aisle will not stand idly by if our country slips into darkness.
And pray. To whatever God you believe in. Even if you don’t believe. Pray.
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