Republican nominee Donald Trump was awfully defensive during Sunday's debate about the fact that Russian intelligence is almost certainly behind the Democratic National Committee hacks, which his campaign has grown so dependent upon to keep its flailing electoral efforts alive. As Margaret Hartmann at New York magazine noted, he even floated the odd conspiracy theory that there was no hack, which requires believing that the Democrats are releasing their own private information and inviting negative news cycles all just so that Hillary Clinton can blame the Russians for it all during a debate.
Hey, this is a guy who insisted on — and refused to back off until just a few weeks ago — claims that President Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S. There is no conspiracy theory too idiotic for the likes of Trump. But I digress.
Now Donald "Leave Putin aloooooooooone" Trump has exposed his soft underbelly, stumbling into a situation that makes it all but certain that his presidential campaign is getting its talking points, one way or another, from Russian propagandists.
Kurt Eichenwald, writing for Newsweek, explained what happened: One of the hacked emails that WikiLeaks dumped is from Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal to her campaign chairman John Podesta, in which Blumenthal shares an article Eichenwald wrote about, an article that contains words certain to arouse the right-wing base: "Benghazi: The attack was almost certainly preventable."
These words are Eichenwald's. Blumenthal was just quoting the article in a larger email. More important, the words are from a larger piece that was about how awful Republicans are to continue lying about Clinton and humping the Benghazi non-scandal years after everything there possibly is to know about it has been put on the public record.
A Russian propaganda outlet called Sputnik — which is intended for an audience of alt-right types and that appears to be behind the conspiracy theory that Trump cited about Clinton's "creating" ISIS — took these quotes out of context, claimed that Blumenthal wrote them and used it all to stoke hatred of Clinton from both the right and the misogynist left.
But even a Breitbart-style propaganda outfit run by Putin loyalists has some standards, so the article on Sputnik was swiftly taken down on the grounds that it was too misleading.
But not before Trump got his hands on it and was reading it on Monday night before a swooning crowd of people who are terrifyingly easy to manipulate with Russian propaganda.
The speed with which an article made its way from Sputnik to Trump's tiny hands should give anyone pause. It's been obvious for a long time that the Trump campaign is dependent on Russian propaganda for its talking points, but this shows that it is almost certainly going straight to the source.
To be clear, this doesn't mean Trump is working for the Russians or even that they have a Russian mole on his staff, feeding him clips. (Though he did directly hire Paul Manafort, who has a history of ties to Putin loyalists, to run his campaign, so honestly, that's not a stretch.) All the Russian propagandists need is a basic understanding of human psychology.
Feeding conspiracy theories to Donald Trump is like getting cats interested in catnip. Trump and the people who follow him have that toxic blend of being pretty dumb while also thinking they're smarter than everyone else — a blend that makes one an easy mark for every two-bit conspiracy theory that comes along. All the Russians need to do is apprise themselves of the obsessions of right wing America — an easy enough task when they blare them out night and day from their own propaganda outlets — and craft stories that feed off those obsessions.
What this does confirm, however, is that the Trump camp's half-hearted disavowals about loving Putin and his right-wing government are so much bullshit, since they clearly don't even wait for Russian propaganda to filter out to American websites to read it. No, Trump exposed that he or someone on his team is constantly hitting Russian propaganda outlets, waiting for Russian-crafted talking points to work into his speeches.
"The Russians engage in a sloppy disinformation effort and, before the day is out, the Republican nominee for president is standing on a stage reciting the manufactured story as truth," Eichenwald wrote.
"This is not funny. It is terrifying," he added.
I see it a little different. It is terrifying, but it's also funny, albeit in a pitch black sense of humor sort of way. It's not funny that Putin is trying to play us this way, but it's straight-up hilarious watching so many people who think they are so smart, both on the right and on the Hillary-hating left, being so easily manipulated by Putin's people.