There are grains of truth here, particularly in Trump’s point about energy, and there’s no doubt that Russia may come to regret backing a militaristic American nationalist. But prefer Hillary? Putin hates Hillary. That Russian hacking operation wasn’t just an attempt to put a thumb on the scale of the presidential election. It was revenge.
When mass protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin erupted in Moscow in December 2011, Putin made clear who he thought was really behind them: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
With the protesters accusing Putin of having rigged recent elections, the Russian leader pointed an angry finger at Clinton, who had issued a statement sharply critical of the voting results. “She said they were dishonest and unfair,” Putin fumed in public remarks, saying that Clinton gave “a signal” to demonstrators working “with the support of the U.S. State Department” to undermine his power. “We need to safeguard ourselves from this interference in our internal affairs,” Putin declared.
Putin reportedly obsessed over Qadhafi’s violent death in Kremlin meetings. The graphic video of the Libya ruler’s bloodied body being dragged by a mob is often replayed on Russian television, along with Clinton’s wisecrack about the executed strongman: “We came, we saw, he died.”
It was Hillary, not Trump, who was the greater enthusiast for intervention against authoritarians abroad, Putin’s worst nightmare. It was also Hillary, not Trump, who spent the fall talking about getting tough with Assad by imposing a no-fly zone in Syria, whether or not that meant possible conflict with Russia in the skies over Mesopotamia. (The Trump administration has since warmed to the idea of a no-fly zone, but only in coordination with Moscow.) And of course it was Hillary, not Trump, who more robustly supported multilateralist “globalist” institutions like NATO and the EU designed to check Russian power. Trump’s opinion of NATO can be fairly robust as well depending on the day, but the fact remains that he called it “obsolete” on the campaign trail, refused to commit to Article 5 at the NATO summit last month (although he did later), and has complained constantly about potential repercussions if European allies don’t pull their own weight on defense. I think President Trump would honor Article 5 if Putin made a move on an ally in eastern Europe, but there’s enough doubt that Moscow may want to test U.S. resolve at some point. There’s little doubt how Clinton, a hawkish Democrat who would have held a grudge against Putin as president for his campaign shenanigans, would react.
Those are just the policy reasons to believe that Russia preferred Trump. Trump’s conspicuous reluctance to criticize Putin, even when pressed on the curious tendency of Russian journalists who’ve criticized the government to die young, was a red-fonted alert that a Trump White House would be less judgmental, shall we say, of the Kremlin’s excesses abroad than a Clinton White House would have been. It probably is true that the military under Trump will be better funded than it would have been under Clinton, but why does Russia care about that? A stronger U.S. military that won’t stand in its way, that may even ally with it in pursuing its interests in Syria, is less of a threat than a weaker U.S. military that’s placed in its path.
The real significance of this clip, I think, is that it all but proves that Trump still doesn’t believe the intelligence findings that Russia hacked the DNC and John Podesta in hopes of helping him win. If, logically, Putin should have preferred a Clinton presidency to a Trump presidency, how would it make sense for Moscow to aid the Trump campaign? It’d be self-sabotage. Exit quotation from Rob Goldstone’s now famous email to Donald Trump Jr in June 2016: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump…”