Gotta love the wonderful spin coming from Jenna Lifhits over at The Weekly Standard regarding Russian interference in the election (“Rubio, Other GOP Candidates, Suffered From Early Russian Election Meddling, Expert Tells Lawmakers,” The Weekly Standard, 3/30/2017):
Republican Russia hawks, including Florida senator Marco Rubio, suffered from the Kremlin’s early attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election, an expert told lawmakers Thursday.
The Kremlin’s election-meddling campaign ramped up in August 2015 and featured methods like hacking, leaks, and information warfare, Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent, told the Senate Intelligence Committee. Watts testified during the panel’s first hearing of its probe into Russian election interference. Those measures adversely affected several GOP candidates, Watts said.
Marco Rubio was the darling of neocon outfits like The Weekly Standard, and he got plenty of plaudits from conservative pundits from The National Review to The New York Times‘ Ross Douthat, among many, many others. But I don’t recall any leaks against candidates like Rubio or Jeb! Bush—certainly nothing like the Clinton email hacks, anyway.
“[Russian active measures] were in full swing during both the Republican and Democratic primary season and may have helped sink the hopes of candidates more hostile to Russian interests long before the field narrowed,” Watts said. “Senator Rubio, in my opinion, you anecdotally suffered from these efforts.”
Rubio, a leading voice in the Senate for cracking down on Russian aggression, looked up at Watts and appeared taken aback.
Which would mean that the “hacking, leaks, and information warfare” against Rubio were so insignificant that he was genuinely surprised to learn that he was a supposed target of Russian agents. But this is where it falls apart:
“It was about propping up Trump to the detriment of other candidates,” [Watts] said. “At times when they had a shot, they would publish an article that was detrimental.”
“Just search the names: Graham, McCain, Rubio, Jeb Bush.”
Lindsey Graham never polled higher than 1% from his announcement that he was running for president all the way to the “suspension” of his campaign in late December, and he never made an appearance in any of the main stage debates held during that time. (He did, however, appear in the lower-tier debates on CNN and Fox, and obviously made a huge splash.) I shouldn’t have to mention that John McCain didn’t run for president in 2016, but apparently I do: John McCain didn’t run for president in 2016.
And when did Rubio or Bush have a shot? Starting on July 12, 2016, neither Rubio nor Bush ever led a national poll—the only two to surpass Trump from that time until late April when polling stopped were Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. Rubio especially received a lot of glowing coverage, as a lot of mainstream media outlets supported Rubio when it was clear Jeb! Bush was a bust. (But I suppose that’s the “LAME-STREAM MEDIA!” that Trump supporters detest, so I guess it doesn’t matter.) As I’ve documented, there was a relentless barrage of delusional pundits who kept insisting that Rubio’s consistently poor performances were signs that he was winning.
And who is Clint Watts, anyway?:
Watts has been a fellow on national security and the Middle East at the Foreign Policy Research Institute since 2011, and is a senior fellow at the Center For Cyber and Homeland Security at The George Washington University. He published research in November with Andrew Weisburd and JM Berger titled: “Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy.”
While Watts is not known as a cyber expert, the associate vice president and director of the Center For Cyber and Homeland Security told CNN that his background in understanding networks as part of his counter-terror work makes him specially qualified to do the research he is doing on Russian propaganda.
“A lot of the analytical and methodological kind of thinking have applicability to this,” Frank Cilluffo said. “So yeah, he kind of came to it accidentally, but that background has a lot of relevance here as well.”
A quick look at the kinds of articles the Foreign Policy Research Institute is prone to publish quickly reveals their hawkishness, and why someone like Watts might be sympathetic to a fellow hawk like Rubio.
Look, there’s no doubt that Russian state-sponsored media outlets released a deluge of pro-Trump, anti-everyone else material during the campaign season and the primaries with the specific aim of bolstering Trump. That’s the nature of propaganda, and unless anyone comes up with a decent way to combat it short of censoring the internet, it’s here to stay. But constantly-churning propaganda outlets are very different from targeted hacks like what the Clinton campaign endured, and I don’t know of any evidence—any evidence—that Rubio or Jeb! or, uh, McCain were targeted in the same way, and if they were, what was “leaked” that was so damaging. It’s not that hacking that produces no results isn’t serious, or that leaks that don’t embarrass the target aren’t serious, but unless there was a campaign to smear any of them as criminals and traitors that gained national and international media attention, there’s not much reason to give this unsubstantiated claim credence.
The bottom line is that on the Republican side of the aisle, Trump supporters went for Trump because they wanted him. They liked his anti-PC, anti-Muslim, anti-Mexico, pro-coal, pro-“America” rhetoric, and they like his brashness and stupidity. It’s hard to imagine a whole bloc of voters who sincerely couldn’t decide whether to support Rubio and Trump and were then pushed in one direction rather than the other because of an article on Sputnik News. I don’t think it occurs to writers at The Weekly Standard that large swaths of Republican voters went for outsider Trump precisely because he wasn’t the kind of establishment frontman Rubio very much wants to be.