Of all the issues that will hound the incoming Trump administration – racism, misogyny, incompetence, lack of preparedness, ethical misbehavior, and so much more – it looks like the one that has the GOP most worried and anxious is what the Chimps like to call the Comrade Putin Problem. Trump’s bromance with Putin – is it just us, or is that whole thing more than a little creepy? – is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also ExxonMobil CEO and Trump Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, whose Putin ties appear to be, shall we say, longstanding and financially rewarding. And let’s not forget Gen. Mike Flynn, tapped to be Trump’s National Security Advisor, who also seems quite smitten by Putin.
In light of the overwhelming evidence that Russia meddled in the presidential contest on behalf of Donald Trump, the preponderance of Friends of Vlad in and around the Oval Office is raising red flags, and rightly so. As usual, the Chimps’ interest here isn’t so much in the merits of the situation. We see no need to make the point that Trump’s rather obvious giveaways to corporate America and the American plutocracy are bad enough, without inviting Russian thugs and criminals to join in the ransacking. Our immediate interest is in what Republicans are doing to get on top of the political narrative.
Bear in mind that this bit of messiness only started blowing up late last week. Even so, the Republican response has been, to our minds, uncharacteristically disorganized. They’ve been test driving a number of responses. Team Trump has simply denied that Russia hacked the election on Trump’s behalf. Others, like Sen. John McCain and Sen. Marco Rubio, have expressed concern over the cozy relations between Tillerson and Putin, and have acknowledged a need to investigate. Then there’s John Bolton, Trump’s choice for Deputy Secretary of State and, accordingly, someone we might expect to be a voice of calm and reason. He suggested that the election hacking was a “false flag operation,” pointing the finger at the Obama administration. The Chimps wonder if Bolton owes Alex Jones a royalty for using the words “false flag” and “Obama” in the same story.
But of all the responses to the Comrade Putin Problem, none intrigues us more than that of Mitch McConnell. Recall from our last installment of Controlling the Political Narrative that, before the election, McConnell threatened to treat any finger pointing at the Russians by the White House as “an act of partisan politics.” Shockingly, now that the election is over, McConnell is singing a bit of a different tune. Today, he joined in calls for the Senate to investigate Russian hacking. This “cannot be a partisan issue,” he said, as he expressed confidence in the intelligence community.
Why do you suppose Sen. McConnell has suddenly seen the light, and now recognizes the need for the Senate – which, conveniently, he controls – to investigate Russia’s efforts to sway the results of the election? The answer should be obvious: hearings are the most efficient and effective way for the GOP to control the political narrative on this hot-button, potentially-incendiary issue. The goal? To avoid or bury evidence tying Russian hacking to Putin’s desire to see Trump win the presidency. Or barring that, to control the spin on that evidence so Trump and the GOP can “plausibly” deny the impact of Russia’s influence.
Anyone who can add 2+2 can do the math and figure out Russia’s end game. Putin wanted a stooge in the White House, someone he could control and manipulate with flattery and financial gain. By all indications, Putin got exactly what he was after. The GOP knows it too, but there is no way they can let the evidence come forward without challenge or spin. If you think there’s no relation between McConnell’s announcement and last week’s news that President Obama ordered intelligence agencies to produce a full report – before he leaves office next month – of the evidence of Russia’s activities and motivations, think again.
Senate (and we trust, eventually House) hearings are the obvious move, and one that Democrats can do nothing to defeat. Having publicly called for hearings themselves, it’s not like Chuck Schumer and other Democrats can now accuse Republicans of playing politics by agreeing with them. Think of it as a preemptive strike, intended by McConnell to keep the Democrats from gaining the upper hand. Congressional hearings are an effective way to frame and roll out the desired narrative. This will be a textbook example of competing factions battling for control. We’ll be watching closely to see how both sides frame the issues, and we’ll report more as events unfold.