The Morning Jolt

National Security & Defense

Are the 2018 Midterms Under Continuing Threat of Foreign Meddling?

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Russian ambassadors and representatives to international organizations in Moscow, Russia, July 19, 2018. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

Yesterday, I wrote that there’s no reason to believe that Russia, and its myriad intelligence agencies, will continue to meddle in American politics in a way that benefits the Republican party. The natural inclinations of the GOP and the Democratic party make Donald Trump a Russophile rarity, and in future elections, Moscow will probably conclude that a Democratic candidate’s victory would be better for its interests. Thus, Republicans have a strong incentive to push for cybersecurity and other anti-meddling measures, lest they find themselves on the losing end of foreign-intelligence plots to sway elections.

Garrett Graff, a longtime writer on national-security issues, concurs and points out that a lot of hostile states watched what Russia did and are probably planning to emulate it:

Democratic control of one or both houses of Congress might, from a brass tacks Chinese or Russian perspective, guarantee two years of a paralyzed America, a country continuing to look inward, not outward. And Democratic control of Congress could help arrest Trump’s trade war, which actually could be harming China’s growth and rise — and the one thing China can’t afford to lose right now is it’s [sic] economic growth. A Democratic House might lead to a polarizing impeachment fight that would further exacerbate America’s political divides and weaken the country globally, at least in the short term.

. . . If it weren’t for the president’s fragile ego, it would be easy for Republican lawmakers to say, “We don’t think the Russian effort affected the 2016 election, but we can’t take the chance that similar efforts in the future ever succeed.” And then throw themselves into an all-out, no-expense-spared, herculean effort to lock down every county-level voter system, ensure paper backups in every elementary school gymnasium voting precinct, install two-factor authentication on every GOP congressional campaign email account, and pound the social media platforms every day to remove disinformation, minimize bots and trolls and block dark-money ads.

One point to keep in mind: The social-media advertising is going to be tough to stamp out. It’s not hard for a foreign-intelligence service to move money to some front company, group, or individual, and have them start pumping out memes and messages to favor one candidate, attack another, or divide Americans in general.

Thankfully, that’s the form of foreign influence least likely to be effective. The 2016 Russian Facebook ads were ludicrously ham-fisted, even silly, as in the case of “muscular Bernie Sanders.” To the extent that Russian efforts influenced the election, it’s doubtful the Facebook ads changed a single vote. If any Russian operation did influence the voters and the narrative of the election, it was the grabbing and publishing of the emails of John Podesta and the DNC.

Washington Post writer Erik Wemple went back and asked news organizations if they thought it was unethical to write news stories based on those emails that were hacked by a hostile foreign government. Few believed that it was.

There’s an angle that people don’t like to focus on too much, because it sounds like victim-blaming. But one of the reasons people were fascinated to learn about what was in those emails is because they revealed truths that were hidden from the public. People reacted strongly to the revelation that Donna Brazile was passing CNN’s questions to the Clinton campaign because Brazile was actually passing CNN’s questions to the Clinton campaign. Bernie Sanders supporters were outraged to learn that purportedly neutral DNC staffers were mocking and sneering at his campaign, because they had been lied to about the DNC’s neutral status throughout the primary. The Clinton campaign didn’t like to talk about the fact that they allowed lobbyists who represented foreign governments to raise money for her campaign, but the emails confirmed that their philosophy was “just take the money and deal with any attacks.” People were fascinated to read Hillary Clinton’s speech to Goldman Sachs because she and her campaign refused to release it.

The emails were unethically obtained, but that didn’t make the information in them any less true — and to the extent that the emails were damaging, that was why they were damaging. People wouldn’t have paid any attention to WikiLeaks if there wasn’t anything consequential in them. If the Hillary campaign had released the speech, if Brazile hadn’t passed along the message, if the DNC staffers had been as neutral as they claimed to be, if the Clinton campaign had refused to let lobbyists for foreign governments become fundraisers . . . the whole Russian hacking operation would have been a dud.

If the argument from Hillary supporters is “Russian hacking of these emails cost her the election,” the argument is really, “the revelation of the truth about Hillary Clinton’s campaign and her supporters cost her the election.” And their argument is that the public never should have been informed of all of this. In other words, she would have won if the public had never seen the truth — which does not strike me as the strongest argument against hacking.

Of course, it’s always possible that the next time a foreign-intelligence service hacks an American political organization, they throw in some damaging fakes.

Mitch McConnell: Okay, Democrats, You Want to Slow Down? We Can Slow Down

Oh, man. Don’t mess with Cocaine Mitch. Democrats want to slow down the nomination and confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh — but it’s unlikely they’ve really thought this through:

The Senate majority leader privately told senior Republicans on Wednesday that if Democrats keep pushing for access to upwards of a million pages in records from President Donald Trump’s high court pick, he’s prepared to let Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote slip until just before November’s midterm elections, according to multiple sources.

Delaying the vote past September would serve a dual purpose for McConnell, keeping vulnerable red-state Democrats off the campaign trail while potentially forcing anti-Kavanaugh liberals to swallow a demoralizing defeat just ahead of the midterms. Senators said McConnell believes the Democratic base will be “deflated” if they raise hopes of defeating Kavanaugh only to lose just days before the election.

Let’s see: Election Day is November 6; most states begin early voting from ten to 15 days before Election Day. How does sometime on the week of October 22 work for you guys? Or do Senate Democrats want to delay it even more, to the following week?

Are they really eager to spend most of the last month before Election Day in Washington? Aren’t all of those endangered red-state Democrats eager to get back to the campaign trail? I mean, we can work the schedule that way if Democrats want, but as they say, be careful what you wish for . . .

What’s interesting is that the GOP opponents to senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana are all predicting that their opponents will vote for Kavanaugh. There’s always a chance for a surprising revelation or curveball at the confirmation hearings, but barring that, Kavanaugh’s close to a lock for confirmation. The question is, when do Senate Democrats want to lose this fight?

Are Great Short-Lived Television Shows Great Because They Were Short-Lived?

It’s been a heavy week, so let’s end with something lighter. I’ve mentioned before that while I’ve liked plenty of popular long-running television series — Cheers, 24, Seinfeld, Homeland, Castle — most of my all-time favorites were cult hits that were canceled pretty quickly: Max Headroom, Twin Peaks, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and Firefly.

I came across a video discussing the Firefly sequel-film Serenity, and it made the point that sometimes a quickly canceled show’s overall quality and legacy is strengthened by its premature demise.

Shows that get canceled after only a few episodes never last long enough for the creative team to hit a wall. They never coast knowing that the network ordered 22 episodes or spin their wheels; there’s rarely a decision to all their big revelations and consequences for the season finale. They don’t last long enough to go off the rails in the manner of The X-Files or The Sopranos. They rarely have to adjust to unplanned cast changes like in Coupling. They’re never given the time to go wrong.

Years ago in this newsletter, I wrote that those big four listed above featured rich, detailed worlds with a sense that a lot was happening offscreen — the bizarre, cheerful television-addled dystopia of Max Headroom, the ominous paranormal in the woods outside Twin Peaks, the vivid canvas of First World War–era Europe for Young Indiana Jones, and the colorful Chinese-American colonized worlds of Firefly. If those shows had lasted four or five seasons, maybe there would have been time to explore what was going on in those offscreen spaces, and perhaps whatever the creators depicted wouldn’t live up to what my imagination contemplated at the time or in the intervening decades. (Oh, wait, with Twin Peaks, this isn’t so theoretical; give the original creative team 18 episodes to play with, and they’ll give you a lot of Dougie stumbling around Las Vegas instead of exploring a small town unknowingly influenced by angels and demons.)

As that video commentator put it, “As first loves go, Serenity was the one that broke everyone’s heart and got away.” Maybe that’s part of what makes those shows special — besides their own strengths, we “remember” those unwritten, un-filmed, but easily pictured subsequent seasons that never were.

ADDENDUM: If you haven’t joined NRPlus, and aren’t yet involved in the members-only Facebook group, you’re missing out on discussions of Kim Jong-un and game theory, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s legal philosophy, how much faith the U.S. intelligence community has earned and when skepticism is warranted, as well as the debut of a “totally unofficial NRPlus Book Club.” Think of it as a really smart, well-connected Facebook group, with all the riff-raff stuck behind the velvet rope at the door.

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