In the aftermath of an at times surreal statement from former Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice Robert Mueller, Donald Trump took to Twitter to emphasise the fact that he was found to not have colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 US election. Whilst this statement by itself is not exotic, the way Trump phrased part of his remarks has grabbed the attention of both American and international observers.
During a series of Tweets, Trump wrote:
“And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected”.
Russia, Russia, Russia! That’s all you heard at the beginning of this Witch Hunt Hoax…And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected. It was a crime that didn’t exist. So now the Dems and their partner, the Fake News Media,…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2019
….say he fought back against this phony crime that didn’t exist, this horrendous false accusation, and he shouldn’t fight back, he should just sit back and take it. Could this be Obstruction? No, Mueller didn’t find Obstruction either. Presidential Harassment!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2019
This statement is unusual on several levels. First of all, whilst Mueller found that Russia did actively interfere in the 2016 election, he did not pass any judgement as to whether Russian activities impacted the final result of the vote. Beyond this, an earlier Congressional report found that Russia’s activities did not ultimately sway the vote in one direction or another.
Whilst Hillary Clinton and her supporters continue to claim (without evidence) that Russian activities were a decisive factor in securing Trump’s victory, now it appears that Trump shares this view as his Tweet implied that Russia was successful in helping him win the presidency.
Although this portion of Trump’s Tweet may well just be an oddly worded sentence referring to Russian activities which aimed to influence the vote, chances are that Trump’s wording was deliberate.
It is no secret that Trump continues to be deeply offended by the fact that his opponents assume that he required the help of a foreign power to win a democratic vote in his own country. Furthermore, as Trump is the leader of a major revival of conservative populism in the United States, it is likewise insulting to millions of supporters of this movement to suggest that they couldn’t ‘pull off a victory on their own’.
Beyond this, Trump has long been sowing a seeds of a new “election collusion” theory. According to the narrative that Trump has been weaving, whilst Russia ostensibly favours a Trump White House, China favours the Democratic party opposition. His Tweet about Russia helping him achieve victory in 2016 is merely the latest salvo in an attempt to build up a narrative claiming that China is going to help unseat him in the 2020 election.
Of course there is absolutely no evidence that China is at all involved in domestic US politics. Beyond this, since 1978 China has a solid history of total non-interference in the political affairs of others. But just as the Russia story appears to have been wildly exaggerated by Democrats for attempted political gain, it logically follows that Trump wants his revenge by putting the “foreign interference” shoe on the other political foot (or wing in this case).
Thus, whilst Trump is likely to win re-election in 2020 (without any external help), should he lose or should there even be major electoral irregularities, the US President is setting the stage to accuse the Democrats of conspiring with China. His Tweet from yesterday which has effectively normalised the phenomenon of foreign interference in US elections is simply a major leap forward when it comes to casting a seemingly believable narrative about his opponents in next year’s election.
Therefore, Trump is sending a sharp message to his domestic opponents. Just as they were willing to throw every conspiracy theory in the book at his campaign, he is now prepared to do the same in respect of their forthcoming campaign.
Trump is also sending a message to China. As trade war and the “technology cold war” between China and the US continues to heat up, Trump is subtly sending a message to China that it should not get its hopes up when it comes to the possibility of being able to work with a US leader who is not Donald Trump after January of 2021.
Not only is Trump likely to win in 2020, but if he were to lose and to then accuse China of helping a Democratic opponent to clench victory in a tight race (just as Hillary Clinton said about Trump’s victory in 2016), it would effectively tie the hands of any new President of the US when it comes to improving or even normalising trading and financial relations with China. One of the self-evident reasons that Russia-US relations declined under Donald Trump is because his hands were tied by the Russiagate scandal.
Had Trump made good on his 2016 pledge to improve ties with Moscow, he would have fit the profile of a man guilty of owing Russia a favour after the Russians helped him win in 2016. Because he could not afford to let this happen, sanctions against Russia and a general degradation in relations with Moscow have accelerated under the self-described Russian friendly Trump vis-a-vis the openly anti-Russian Barack Obama.
If Trump and his vocal supporters were to accuse a Democratic leader whether Joe Biden or anyone else of securing victory because of Chinese help, such a leader would be virtually obliged to be even more hardline against China than even Donald Trump.
Therefore, there is a clear method in the apparent madness of Trump’s Tweet. First of all, he is putting his opponents on notice that he is ready to play as rough as they are and secondly, he is sending a message to China that if there is going to be a win-win conclusion to trade talks, it can only be one signed between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping.