Voice

Trump Won Putin’s Focus Group

Judging from Russia’s state-sponsored Twitter coverage of the presidential debate, the Kremlin is anything but a swing state.

Republican nominee Donald Trump (C) speaks with reporters in the "Spin Room" as  Melania Trump looks on after the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York on September 26, 2016. / AFP / Jewel SAMAD        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican nominee Donald Trump (C) speaks with reporters in the "Spin Room" as Melania Trump looks on after the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York on September 26, 2016. / AFP / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

A record number of Americans tuned in to watch the first U.S. presidential debate on Monday night, but someone else was watching, too: the Kremlin media machine. It was the middle of the night in Russia, but the tweets kept coming, making it clear, as always, whose side the Kremlin is on in this election. At the very least, it shows exactly how smoothly Donald Trump’s policy positions dovetail with Moscow’s. Read between the lines, and it also shows what the Russian government thinks about Hillary Clinton.

Here is a small sampling from the accounts of Kremlin-owned media.

“Trump: USA Shouldn’t Be World’s Policeman”

In the United States, we call it being the “world’s policeman.” Russian President Vladimir Putin calls it a “unipolar world,” and he’s been inveighing against America’s role — as policeman, as sole pole — for most of his rule. Now, one of the two people who will be the next U.S. president in January is saying it for him.

Strangely, these two tweets from two different outlets — one a state-owned wire, the other a hyperloyal, jingoistic news service — ran with the same headline: “Trump Declares That Russia’s Nuclear Potential Is Greater Than America’s.” In fact, Trump (correctly) touted Russia’s recent modernization of its nuclear arsenal (though he didn’t mention that this was, in part, due to Putin’s burial of any new arms control deals with the United States). It’s not immediately obvious (to me) that the second part of his assertion — that America’s nuclear arsenal is a shambles — is true, but the Russians took it and ran with it.

“Trump Doesn’t Exclude Preventive Nuclear Strike by Washington”

Something tells me they liked this one a little less.

Oh wait, but wait!

You know who else has been saying that the Americans essentially created the Islamic State? That’s right: Putin.

Did you not get enough of Trump bragging about his endorsements by Republican luminaries during the debate? Because the Kremlin media has some more for you. With gifs, because they know you Americans like gifs.

This one is truly special and typical of how these outlets operate. Sputnik, an English-language news service wholly owned and controlled by the Kremlin, cites an expert named Wayne Madsen who says Trump becoming president “is the only way we are going to see the end to the Syrian civil war.” (Because a President Trump would put an end to all U.S. operations there and would allow Putin and Bashar al-Assad to scorch and flatten the country into submission?) Who is Wayne Madsen? According to Wikipedia, “he has been described as a conspiracy theorist.”

And this, of course, is perfect.

There is very little doubt left that the Russians were behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee, but Trump muddying the waters simply by saying we don’t know — and, sure, officially we don’t yet know — is wonderful on many levels: The candidate who has most benefited from the hack is now helping those responsible cover up their tracks by denying their role, and they tout his denial of their role as irrefutable proof of their involvement. (Guess who else agrees.)

But although the Kremlin media machine was very obviously putting up for their man Trump, it had to concede: The instant polls after the debate showed that Clinton crushed him, and, to be fair, some of them tweeted that, too.

By morning, they had moved on to other things — news from Syria, the doping scandal — but they were still holding out hope. Russia’s new, well-funded, and Kremlin-loyal Christian TV station boomed that “Trump calmly and surely beat Clinton.” A hot take published by RIA News, a state-owned wire, said: “This has never happened in American history, for there to be complete uncertainty about who won the first round of that national American sport of presidential debates. Moreover, it raises the question: What is victory anyway?”

Well, as much as the Kremlin and Trump would like to muddy the waters and talk about a rigged system, eventually — say, on or around Nov. 9 — we will know who won. And though Americans haven’t yet decided on who should lead them for the next four years, the Russian government clearly has: the ranting bull who would smash up the American china shop for them. Funny thing about bulls like that, though, is they can suddenly get sick of the china-smashing and charge in your direction.

Photo credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

About the Author

Julia Ioffe is a contributing writer to <i>Politico Magazine</i> and Huffington Post's Highline. She was a senior editor at the <i>New Republic</i> and was the Moscow correspondent for Foreign Policy and the <i>New Yorker</i> from 2009 to 2012.

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