Did Russian hacking during the 2016 campaign tip the election to Donald Trump? In the LA Times today, Noah Bierman and Brian Bennett have this to say:
The truth is no one knows for sure because the election was so close in so many states that no one factor can be credited or blamed, especially in last year’s highly combustible campaign.
This is exactly backward. The fact that the election was so close means that lots of things might have tipped the election all by themselves. The Russian hacking is one of them. Consider Bierman and Bennett’s own case:
Extensive news coverage of the how the leaked emails showed political machinations by Democratic Party operatives often drowned out Clinton’s agenda….English-language news channel Russia Today…posted a video on YouTube in early November, for example. Called “Trump Will Not Be Permitted to Win,” it featured Julian Assange, the fugitive founder of WikiLeaks, and was watched 2.2 million times….U.S. intelligence officials say anti-Clinton stories and posts flooded social media from the Internet Research Agency near St. Petersburg, which the report described as a network of “professional trolls” led by a Putin ally.
Putin’s most tangible victory may have come last summer. On the eve of the Democratic National Convention in July, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) was forced to quit her post as Democratic National Committee chairwoman after emails posted on Wikileaks showed that supposedly neutral DNC officials had backed Clinton over her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in the primaries.
….In October, Trump similarly seized on leaked emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. They showed that Donna Brazile, a former CNN commentator who replaced Wasserman Schultz at the DNC, had shared a pair of questions with Clinton’s team before a televised candidates’ forum and debate….The leak showed nothing illegal. But it bolstered the idea that Clinton was a Washington insider who benefited from fellow elites.
….The most damaging leaks for Clinton may have been transcripts of excerpts of her highly paid speeches to Wall Street bankers, released in October….There were no smoking guns in the leaks. But they included her admission that her growing wealth since she and Bill Clinton left the White House in 2001 had made her “kind of far removed” from the anger and frustration many Americans felt after the 2008 recession. She also called for “a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future, with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it.”
That’s a lot of stuff! Does it seem likely that all of this, plus the fact that it kept Clinton’s email woes front and center, made a difference of 1 percent in a few swing states? Sure, I’d say so. Did other things make a difference too? Yes indeed. But given how close the election was, there’s a pretty good chance that Putin’s campaign of cyber-chaos had enough oomph to swing things all by itself.
I’m a little surprised this hasn’t produced more panic. In the United States I understand why it hasn’t: Democrats don’t want to sound like sore losers and Republicans don’t care as long as their guy won. But what about the rest of the world? It’s been common knowledge for a while that Russia does this kind of stuff, but their actions in the US election represent a quantum leap in how far they’re willing to go. And there’s not much doubt that Putin will keep at it.
After all, it worked a treat. And thanks to a gullible press and normal partisan politics, it’ll keep working. The next leak will get as much attention as these did, and the one after that too. We have no societal defense against this stuff.