I’m, er, pretty sure some Democrats are saying that, or at least leaving room for the possibility. On Friday Nancy Pelosi addressed the Wikileaks revelations in her weekly press conference, saying, “Did it affect the Clinton campaign? Of course it did. Would [the election] have come out differently? I don’t know, because there are many factors in an election.” Hillary Clinton herself called the hackings an attack on “the integrity of our democracy” at a party with donors last month, although she said she believed it was Comey’s letter, not the hackings, that was decisive. In a Fox News poll taken last month, 55 percent of Democrats said they thought the Wikileaks revelations helped Trump at least a little. Fully 40 percent thought it helped him “a lot.” I think he would have won regardless, but if you’re looking for ways to delegitimize him, this is an obvious one.
Graham, knowing how important it is for any president to be seen as legitimate and how exponentially more important it must be for an ego like Trump’s, decided to use his guest shot yesterday on “Meet the Press” to try to soothe that ego. He’s essentially offering Trump a deal here: You get tough on Russia by formally blaming them for the hackings and Republican critics like Graham will go to bat for you by insisting that you would have won anyway. Graham’s a hawk who wants the White House on the hawks’ side against Putin; if the price of Trump’s cooperation is vouching for him that he won fair and square, fine. That approach might work to harden Trump’s stance towards Moscow if it’s true that he’s been spinning for Russia on the hackings only because he fears his own legitimacy will suffer a blow if he acknowledges their culpability. I don’t think that’s the reason, though. It may be part of what’s driving his opposition, but Trump was defending Putin and questioning NATO long before the hackings became public knowledge. His Russophilia seems to be a combination of sincere admiration for “strong hand” authoritarianism, skepticism of America’s European allies free-riding on our security guarantees, and some old-fashioned “anyone this antagonistic to Obama can’t be all bad” partisanship. It’s unthinkable that he’ll reverse course on detente with Russia and keep sanctions in place if only critics like Graham and McCain pipe up to say that Trump would have won the election even if Russia hadn’t helped. The only thing that’ll flip Trump on Russia is Putin embarrassing him somehow on the global stage by outmaneuvering him or making him look weak. Graham probably won’t have to wait too long for that.
As Kellyanne Conway reminded us elsewhere today, though, we must judge Trump by what’s in his heart, not what comes out of his mouth, presumably via the use of telepathy. Maybe his heart is skeptical of Russia even as his mouth is relentlessly credulous. Here’s Graham followed by Jake Tapper tossing a good question at Conway in a separate interview yesterday: If Trump thinks the Wikileaks revelations were irrelevant to the outcome, why’d he spend so much time on the trail mentioning the Wikileaks revelations? Candidates tend to focus on subjects which they believe will move votes, and there weren’t all that many votes that separated the winner and loser in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Conway spends about seven minutes filibustering that question with Tapper following up in hot pursuit.