As a former Hill staffer, strangely, I have more government experience than the current President of the United States. And my up close experience in the American government has taught me “best-laid plans” can blow up in one’s face.
Here’s my theory about the Russian involvement in our election:
First there’s no evidence that trump is the fix-it business guy he purports to be. He’s filed for bankruptcy six times; stiffed contractors and is currently involved in more than 75 lawsuits. Plus the sliver of a tax return we’ve seen shows this self-proclaimed smart person losing a billion dollars of other people’s money in just one year. Divorce yourself from patriotism, genuflection to the will of the voters or just simple deference to the office: Anyone else with this track record is a crook and a reckless one at that, not someone who yields legit business acumen. Trump’s “businesses” are scams to exploit others’ greed, which is the premise of every confidence game. His “university” was a scam. His charity is a scam. He’s on the take. Always has been.
Through often-shady means, he does know how to line his own pockets. Trump is a scam savant.
What keeps rolling over in my brain is the plot to Mel Brooks’ 1967 masterpiece The Producers. Nebbish accountant, Leo Bloom, played by Gene Wilder, off-handedly mentions to shyster theater producer, Max Bialystock played by Zero Mostel, that from an accounting perspective, he could make more money from a flop than a hit. So they devise a brilliant scheme: Pick the worst play possible, sell a million dollars in shares and after the play bombs, run away to South America with the cash. No harm done. Simple.
The duo then find a Nazi playwright in their slush pile whose opus “Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden.” is the perfect flaming pile of garbage they’re looking for. Yes, in order for this scam to be successful, they must work with a Hitler-adoring scribe. (Ahem.)
Then the unimaginable happens: The play is a hit. This of course means that Bialystock and Bloom are about to be found out. The over sold shares will be their doom.
The Republican Party is very generous to conservatives who run for president. Also-rans become the Professional Right: Speaking fees, book deals, TV shows. They don’t need to win to reap the rewards of running. (See: Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich etc.) It’s reasonable to assume trump made the same calculation dozens of other Republicans made in 2015: “If I run, I’ll increase my platform and therefore my bottom line.”
So trump runs. He gets perennial but slightly skeevy GOP operatives like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone to run his campaign. It’s well documented that trump has a massive man-crush on Vladimir Putin. Trump traveled to Moscow and has said on camera that he’s met Putin, only to later deny the claim. We don’t know the exact level of Russian business trump and his family is involved in because unlike actual public servants, the trumps don’t believe the public should know whose interests they serve.
Trump KNEW Putin was helping his campaign, evident by his call for Russia to hack his opponent at a press conference last July. But like the winners of Miss America, trump was so profoundly flattered that out of the roughly 1,194 GOP candidates to be POTUS, Vlad picked him! Putin’s praise was, to turn a phrase, golden.
And this didn’t worry trump. He’s a man who delights in doling out punishment, revenge and consequences for others but has never suffered them himself. His father gave him a fortune, which he blew through. Then Papa Trump had to bail him out of his failing casino business. The taxpayers bailed him out of his billion-dollars-in-one-year loss. Other than some lawsuits, trump has gotten away with every swindle he’s ever attempted. He doesn’t think rules apply to him because for his entire life, they haven’t.
Trump saw multi-billion dollar signs in running for POTUS. He could land new business and licensing deals. He used his campaign to promote his businesses. He was doing a media availability at his Scottish golf course when the Brexit vote was called. He strangely showcased now discontinued trump products at another campaign event. Trump saw a way to make money and that is exactly what he did. He didn’t seem all that concerned about a ground game or staffing up. He got “earned” media totaling in the billions just by being controversial, saying and doing ghastly things like making fun of a disabled reporter and bragging about the size of his junk at presidential primary debates. According to her lawsuit, his current wife admittedly saw her ability to launch a clothing line with her new amplified brand.
Because there was such indifference toward traditional campaigning, it leads me to believe trump knew he had a Hail Mary, didn’t fully expect it to work, but LOVED the crowds and the new swagger that Putin’s attention gave his Number One Super Fan. And, just like Bialystock mused, he could make a ton of money by losing and there would be nearly no accountability: win/win.
This assumes trump is not being blackmailed as it has been suggested but is merely acting compromised simply from flattery. Trump is unable to denounce anyone who loves him. It’s one of his many (many) weaknesses. He can’t denounce neo-Nazis or anti-Semites because they adore him. If we pull back to a 30,000-foot view: trump acts like White Supremacists are blackmailing him too but he’s more likely to be compromised by flattery.
I doubt trump is actually blackmailable. There is tons of dirt on trump. I don’t think that motivates him whatsoever. I think his plan has always been to obfuscate and bloviate away damning evidence and then threaten the leakers. This exact formula worked for all his accusers who came forward. No reason that’s not the perma-strategy
Winning was the worst thing to happen to trump: First because he’s not a patriot and doesn’t see an unfriendly nuclear nation as a threat. When told by left-wing hippie Bill O’Reilly that Putin is a killer, trump’s retort was, “You think we’re so innocent?” He sees Russia as a country that admires him and wants to make deals with him. He doesn’t care that an emboldened Russia could destabilize Europe and threaten the sovereignty of neighboring countries, he just likes how popular Putin is in Russia and that he’s a tough guy who loves him.
Second: He didn’t believe he was doing anything wrong because in his mind nothing that trump ever does is wrong. It’s extreme cognitive dissonance: if trump does it — it’s not illegal. If a woman or a person of color does it, an entirely different story. To him winning the election was the ultimate validator: Americans are cool with the racism, OK with him not releasing his tax returns and fine with a prolific sexual predator in the most prestigious office in the world. He believes everything he’s ever touched turns to gold and the fact that it was gold BEFORE he touched it — merely a coincidence. He believes in his own greatness and agrees with anyone who believes the same.
There appears to be a lot of mounting evidence that the trump campaign was working with a foreign power to win the election. There was a hack that uncovered a blackmail attempt of Paul Manafort threatening to expose his alleged Russian pay-off. There are intercepted calls between then-campaign aide General Michael Flynn, who later resigned as NSA after he lied about it to the VP. And the only way to explain why trump’s campaign was so brazenly idiotic is if they never thought it would matter. If they assumed Russian hacking would merely cripple Clinton (instead of killing her), they could have just made some new friends and after the election everyone would have been happy. Trump has always used non-disclosure agreements to keep his shadiness in the shadows, he’s never been subjected to the American Intelligence Community, and there comes a time, to quote Amy Winehouse, when your old tricks no longer work. The smoke and mirrors are being washed away by leaks. And as trump has said, the news is fake, the leaks are real.
I write this hours after CNN’s gob smacking report from the FBI that White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, called the Bureau on three occasions asking them to downplay the Russia-Trump contacts during the campaign. The campaign that Priebus himself worked on! The campaign that the new Attorney General Jeff Sessions worked on along with many in trump’s inner circle. My first reaction is that innocent people don’t call the FBI multiple times begging them to downplay an untrue story. Especially when trump has been able to successfully drive the media narrative via spectacle. My experience in government is that Priebus was doing what his boss asked him to do, no matter how unethical, illegal or potentially damaging. It was trump thinking he has the golden touch so he can simply yell “fake news,” cast aspersions on the IC, threaten leakers and it’ll all go away.
So now it REALLY looks like the campaign was in bed with the Russians. Why risk that? That’s INSANE unless it was never going to be an issue because there was NO WAY this chintzy train wreck was going to beat an over-achiever who’d been cramming and planning her entire life to be POTUS.
The Art of the Scam needs an exit plan. Otherwise when the marks wise up and get their proverbial pitchforks and torches, you’re done. Which is what seems to be happening.
To quote Bialystock at the end of The Producers, “I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast…where did I go RIGHT?
photo by Mark Dixon