Most people probably think at this point that Trump is not very competent. It certainly seems to be a reasonable conclusion, considering the non-stop flow of fiascos – Muslim ban, Jeff Sessions, now the Obama wiretap tweets – all in his first month or so. Now, I’m not saying Trump isn’t stupid, but I’d like to consider an alternative: that Trump is in fact extremely competent, that his staff is competent and that they are all in league with Putin. Let’s see how well this theory holds up to stress. I mean, for me it’s hard to totally dismiss the Trump team after they managed to win the general election with no pre-existing reputation in politics (outside the birther movement).
So, let’s assume the above and see where the Trump administration’s statements fit in. First thing to note is that, regardless of whether there is or isn’t any evidence implicating Trump, Trump and Putin should both act as if none exists. This is not the same as proving or trying to prove it doesn’t exist – rather, it means assuming that no one will find evidence. If no one can prove Trump is connected to Russia, and especially if Trump can fabricate some sort of counter-argument – for example, if he can fabricate convincing evidence that the Democrats are actually in communication with Russia and part of a conspiracy to put him down – he will gain massive credibility and destroy his opposition all at once. This is more or less the same tactic Hitler used to first gain power in Germany – he blamed communists for the burning of the German parliament, the Reichstag, and used the event as an excuse to pass draconian anti-communist laws that focused substantial emergency power in his hands. The idea that Trump is doing this with the Russia scandal might be hard to swallow, since Trump appears so obviously implicated. However, it is important to bear in mind that Trump should act the same way regardless of whether there is evidence. After all, if there is evidence on Trump he’s totally sunk, and it would definitely come out soon enough, so the only way he can really get out of that situation is to spin it into an attack on the Democrats. After all, it’s not like Trump can prove himself innocent – the only tool he has is to convince the public that he’s not guilty. In addition to that, if there isn’t any evidence, spinning it into an attack on the Democrats is also a very effective strategy, but one that only works if he is thoroughly investigated first.
So, one way it might play out is that Democrats try to force an investigation of Trump, nothing comes up, then Trump shows off some kind of (fake) evidence that Democrats are in league with Russia. I don’t think it would be that hard if Trump really is collaborating with Putin. For example, Trump could arrange a meeting with Putin in Washington (which would not be really unexpected) and then take the opportunity to covertly record Putin having meetings with leading Democrats. It’s unclear if Democrats would be willing to meet with him, but there is always that possibility. If Sessions’ statement that members of the Senate meet with Russian officials regularly is true, they probably would be willing to have a discussion, at least. Then, that footage could be altered and used as incriminating evidence – not too difficult for someone who can hack into the CIA’s servers from across the globe. It would be particularly interesting if Putin uses information on Trump as bait here – something like, let’s meet and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about Trump. He’s an idiot and has failed me, and it’s time I put him away for good – then the bait and switch. This has to be the endgame, as it’s very difficult to disprove the accusations against Trump definitively, so the best he can really hope for is to prove that the people accusing him are committing the crime.
One interesting thing to consider in this scenario is whether Trump is currently communicating with Putin, directly or through proxies. Maybe at his resort in Florida? This might seem unrealistic, but I doubt anyone really knows what Trump does at Mar-a-Lago the whole time he’s there. It could easily be the case that Trump goes to Mar-a-Lago specifically to facilitate these communications, although it’s hard to imagine that Trump would be recorded in the White House. To be honest, it seems unlikely that Trump and Putin would be able to advance their own agendas together without any form of communication, so the conclusion has to be that Trump has certain suspicious guests at Mar-a-Lago, or else some other kind of indirect go-between that reports to him there. Trump would probably not risk doing anything this shady in the Oval Office.
The above scenario assumes Russia has dirt on Trump. The other possibility, of course, is that they don’t. What if Trump is only pretending that the Russians have dirt on him? Consider the possibility that Trump’s tax returns contain something bad that is unrelated to Russia – like him being in massive debt, for example. There could be multiple reasons for him to mislead the public into thinking he has a Russia problem: to make people forget about his taxes, to overshadow everything else he’s done in order to clear his slate if he’s proven innocent, or to solidify his alternative facts narrative and take power away from the left. I find this scenario somewhat plausible. While there was some speculation that Trump was linked to Russia before November, in hindsight it seems somewhat toothless and like something the Clinton campaign might’ve exaggerated to undermine his candidacy. It seems like the Russia scandal only went into overdrive after the elections were over, at which point Trump didn’t have to worry about it impacting his favorability ratings too much. I mean, it’s basically impossible for him to be impeached at this point without hard proof, and if there isn’t any hard proof to be found he doesn’t have to worry. All these leaks coming out of his White House are also very suspicious considering he hasn’t fired anyone. Trump is the kind of guy you’d expect to literally fire all of his employees and replace them with a new set – at least, that’s what I’d expect him to do if there were really people consistently leaking sensitive information. To me, something doesn’t add up about the way Trump is trying to handle the Russia allegations, and this is just one possibility.
I’m not saying the straightforward interpretation that Trump is way out of his depth is wrong, but the alternatives should be considered. If Trump is really incompetent and the allegations about him are true, he will fall easily. If not, it is worth exercising some restraint in this respect. Democrats should still call for Sessions’ resignation, and oppose Trump’s unlawful Muslim ban. However, Democrats as a whole should wait for evidence before condemning Trump, at least criminally, in their minds. If nothing else, thinking about Trump’s possible positions is an interesting mental exercise – I challenge all of you to come up with something else more plausible than this (besides Trump being involved with Russia and incompetently trying to cover it up)!