By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
One of the latest claims about the “Russia supported Trump” story online is that “Russia support for Trump on Twitter started shortly after he announced bid.” This would be in June 2015. According to the new report “Testimony from the companies released last week revealed that posts from Russian agents on Facebook reached 126 million users over a two-year period before the election, while Twitter published more than 131,000 messages from Russia agents. More than 1,000 videos from Russian agents were uploaded to Google’s YouTube.”
In June 2015 Donald Trump was at 4% in GOP polling data compiled by Real Clear Politics. Four percent. So what we are being told is that “Russian agents” decided in June of 2015 that they would back the least likely US candidate to win. What exact strategy, if you were a “Russian agent” would that accomplish? Let’s recall June 2015 when the following candidates were running: Bush, Walker, Rubio, Paul, Carson, Huckabee, Cruz and Christi were all running and all performing better in polls than Donald Trump. Trump, who had run for president and talked about running for president since the 1990s, appears to have no chance of winning and his track record “running” for president is to do it for ratings and then walk away.
Why would “Russian agents” have decided to start helping Trump in 2015 when he stood no chance of winning. Why would they continue to put their eggs in one Trump basket all the way to the unlikely scenario that he would win the GOP Primary, which he did in July 2016. These were long odds, and Russia’s leadership is not known for backing long odds or taking extreme risks. They tend to work quietly and long-term to back opportunities that work. That means Bashar al-Assad, or supporting breakaway areas in the Caucuses, or finding a leader for Chechnya who works well with Moscow. They have sometimes overstretched or miscalculated, as probably happened in 2014 in Ukraine, ending up with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, but uniting the rest of Ukraine against Moscow. Evidence shows that it’s not likely Russia’s leaders or “agents” would choose the least likely person to win and decide he was their choice.
What is more likely? It is more likely that if Russia, or Russian “agents” wanted to influence the US election, to end up with a more palatable leader in Washington, they would support a candidate with a chance of winning. It could be that the idea was to tarnish and harm opponents of Russia, which Hilary Clinton was apparently thought to be (despite her support for ‘Reset’). But what is more likely is that whatever attempt was made on social media to influence the US public would be done not to support just Trump, but a series of candidates. Cast a wide net, and see what comes in.
The real question that should be asked is who else benefits. Is it really a “Trump-Russia” story, is the story more broad. Did Bernie Sanders campaign also benefit from what we are told are internet “Trolls.” Who else benefited or was harmed by “fake news.” Overall we have not heard a media attempt to quantify how important this influence was or how it compared with other fake news or even other support from foreign powers. If some “agents” were able to so easily buy up spots on social media, aren’t there many other countries who do the same? The US supports media abroad that influence foreign countries, as revealed in The Other Air Force. So this is standard operating procedure in world affairs.
If that’s the case, then the real question seems to be broader than just “Trump-Russia.” It should be about who else benefited. Whether Trump was really the “mark” or just one mark. What was going on in the Sanders campaign? What other countries are doing the same thing, even today? There are many more questions about the nature of media reports about “contacts” and the investigation. Most of them point to a feeble operation, of minor contacts and low level meetings, innuendo and “promises” not fulfilled. We will learn more from the Mueller investigation. So far what we have learned is more about Ukraine and Manafort. We may learn also about Flynn and Turkey. This raises questions about lobbying and corruption and foreign countries. A web of firms and consultants and trusts. But it still seems we are missing some key questions and what we are being told is not a logical narrative.