Donald Trump has succeeded, against all odds, in turning the alleged Russian cyberattack on the United States into a partisan issue. Putin's faves with Republicans are way up!
But some of the wonderment at Trump's apparent defense of hacking misses the obvious piece of context: A Dec. 19 vote at the Electoral College in which he needs 270 votes to become president.
Anyone who is used to the norms of American politics, to many decades of tradition, knows that vote is merely symbolic and that last-ditch efforts to take the presidency from Trump on Dec. 19 are wild-eyed fantasy.
But Trump has shown a remarkable imagination as to the flexibility of American norms. And outside those norms, there is no reason not to take the Electoral College seriously. Trump knows that what veteran political observers like me dismiss as ridiculous is, unless actually illegal, entirely possible. And so the Dec. 19 vote looms.
Trump's suggestions that the CIA is skewing intelligence to undermine him politically are how you keep your side in line in American politics in 2016: You turn an analytical issue into a tribal one. If arcane health care policy details like the individual mandate can become hyperpartisan, why not the shadowy outlines of intelligence reporting?
And so what Trump is doing right now is turning the hacking story partisan, with a vote looming. (This is what he's doing; I'm not going to try to project "strategy.")
Anyway, this is a theory we can test. There is, I’m told, talk of Trump’s inviting a sympathetic, Ryan- and McConnell-led congressional investigation after the Electoral College vote. Let’s see if President Trump acknowledges the Russian role — in mayhem, if not in his legitimacy — then.
The best sourced reporter in The Tower, the Times' Maggie Haberman, hears something similar:
So are Trump's attacks on the CIA really about the Electoral College?
Well, the notion that this sclerotic institution could take the election away is, as any veteran observer of US politics will tell you, a pathetic liberal fantasy and ludicrous breach of historical norms.
You expect Donald Trump to take that to mean it can't happen?
Ben Smith is the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed and is based in New York.
Contact Ben Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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