Is it a problem when voters think the election will be rigged?
President Donald Trump's advisers are starting to evidence anxiety about the Russians' efforts to interfere with the upcoming election. At the National Cybersecurity Summit on Tuesday, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen told the audience, "Two years ago, a foreign power launched a brazen, multi-faceted influence campaign . . . to distort our presidential election."
Unlike the president, she left no wiggle room: "Let me be clear: Our intelligence community had it right. It was the Russians. We know that, they know that. It was directed from the highest levels. And we cannot and will not allow it to happen again." She added, "We are not waiting for the next intrusion before we act. We are taking a clear-eyed look at the threat and taking action — and notably — collective action to combat them."
Unfortunately, if Nielsen is doing this, she is proceeding without a smidgen of presidential leadership or help from congressional Republicans when it comes to election security. Remarkably, the GOP on Wednesday sank a measure to provide funding for security measures. The Washington Post reported on Monday:
"Senate Republicans voted down a bid Wednesday to direct an extra $250 million toward election security in advance of the 2018 midterms, despite heightened warnings from intelligence officials that foreign governments will try to interfere in the contests and evidence that some lawmakers have already been targeted.
"The 50 to 47 vote fell far short of the needed 60 votes to include the $250 million amendment, proposed by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., in an appropriations package that the Senate was set to approve Wednesday. Only one Republican senator — Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who frequently prioritizes deficit concerns — voted for the additional funds."
A large majority of voters express concern about Russian interference. In the most recent YouGov/Economist poll, 54 percent of Americans think Russia interfered in 2016 while 22 percent do not; a plurality (37-26 percent) think they are doing so again, but 37 percent aren't sure.
Americans aren't confused about who Vladimir Putin favored in 2016: 51 percent say Trump, while only 11 percent say Hillary Clinton. Likewise, 39 percent think Russia is out to favor Republicans in the midterms, only 9 percent say Democrats, 19 percent say neither and 34 percent aren't sure.
Some 50 percent say they are concerned about "improper relations" (36 percent are "very" concerned) between the Trump campaign and the Russians in 2016; 36 percent are not concerned. A plurality think someone on the 2016 campaign other than Trump did something improper (43-30 percent), while a smaller margin think Trump personally (40-36 percent) did something wrong. Fewer think the campaign (42-31) or Trump (39-36) did something illegal.
A plurality think special counsel Robert Mueller is doing a good job (36-32 percent). A larger plurality (47-35 percent) think the FBI is conducting a legitimate investigation, not a witch hunt.
Trump recently tried to argue that Russia was intervening to help Democrats. As the YouGov results show, virtually no one buys that. If the GOP gets wiped out in November, Trump will have a tough time convincing voters that Russia was the reason (especially given the hacking into the computers of Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri).
Given the poll numbers, you can understand why a bipartisan group of senators (including Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Cory Gardner of Colorado, who voted against the extra funding for election security!) introduced a tough Russia sanctions bill Thursday morning.
The bill includes "sanctions on political figures, oligarchs, and family members and other persons that facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of Vladimir Putin" as well as "on transactions related to investment in energy projects supported by Russia state-owned or parastatal entities."
Other measures target "transactions relating to new sovereign debt of the Russian Federation" and "any person in the Russian Federation that has the capacity or ability to support or facilitate malicious cyber activities." Most interesting, the bill includes "a requirement for the Secretary of State to submit a determination of whether the Russian Federation meets the criteria for designation as a state sponsor of terrorism." The bill almost certainly will not be passed (or probably even make it out of committee) before the midterms, but it does highlight the gap between the president's posture toward Putin and the views of members of Congress.
Where does this leave us? Voters have figured out, despite Trump's disinformation, that Russia meddled in 2016, and many have strong suspicions they got help from Trump's campaign. Moreover, they know Russia is on Trump/the GOP's side — which raises the interesting question for voters: Why does Russia so badly want to keep Trump and his party in power? The answer should be obvious: Trump is the most pro-Russian person in the U.S. government, the person least anxious to defend our election system. That alone should be reason to constrain his power and get him out of office as soon as possible.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.
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