Campaign Trail Report: Clinton’s version of a rigged election

November 1, 2016

Sanford, North Carolina. A sunny day. Tim Kaine arrives on time, finishes quite early. It is hours from Halloween’s trick or treat, and he is a considerate candidate. Listening to him is a pleasure. A breath of fresh air in the era of Trumpian bombast and Clintonian celebrity culture.

His voice struggles. His hairstyle – well – there is hair, but the style is missing. He does not shout at the crowd, does not attempt to frighten it (maybe just a little bit). He seems just nice. Anonymously nice. I can confidently assume that not one voter in the crowd is voting for Hillary because of Kaine. I’d be surprised to discover that anyone in the nation is voting for Hillary because of Kaine. If Kaine doesn’t win this election, the day after the election it’s possible that people will barely recognize him in the street. I watch him and suddenly realize: he could have been a great spy. The unnoticed, blending-in, average person. A breath of fresh air in this election cycle.

He makes the case for Clinton – and the case against Trump. There’s nothing new to say – and if there is, Kaine doesn’t say it. He avoids any mention of emails. It is clearly a tactic the campaign decided was the better one. Bill Clinton “>does not talk about them – not even indirectly. He talks about Hillary, a present-day good Samaritan if you care to believe it (Hillary Clinton “is not the kind of person who’s just going to walk on by” an injured man). He talks about the economy, the credit Obama deserves and does not get for improving it, and what Clinton will do to further improve it. He talks about Russia. He talks a lot about Russia.

It is interesting to hear what he says about Russia, and somewhat puzzling. Because, to a certain extent, Kaine, in talking about Russia, is toying with a theme that was popularized in recent weeks by Donald Trump – the rigged election theme. He calls Trump “Vladimir Putin’s defense lawyer,” highlighting Trump’s fascination with dictators (including, according to Kaine’s list yesterday: the present or former leaders of North Korea, Iraq and Libya). All this is obvious campaign material: Trump likes Putin, the North Carolinians dislike Putin, so making this a part of a campaign trail speech is a no brainer.

Alas, Kaine goes further than that. Kaine talks about Putin’s Russia and its alleged attempt to mess with US election results. He makes this a rallying cry for a crowd that’s looking to arm itself with one more reason to vote for Clinton. You need a reason? Here is one! To spite Putin. Or, as Kaine put it, to “send a message to Russia.” What exactly is the message? I guess it is twofold: One – you wanted Trump to win, but we, the American people, decided against it. Two – you attempted to force Russia into the process by tinkering with our election machines, but we, the American people, overcame these shenanigans. 

These are both problematic messages. Clinton does not want to get elected because Putin wants someone else. If that is the reason for people to vote for her – it is an argument that defeats itself: you argued against Putin’s attempt to influence the election and ended up handing him the key to influence – the person he says he wants is the person against which America votes. In other words: If one does not want Putin to have influence, one has to tell the voters to ignore Putin’s advice. To vote neither for it nor against it. Voting to spite it, as Kaine suggested the voters ought to do, is giving it weight. Having weight is what Putin plays for.

The second of Kaine’s points is even more problematic. The prospective VP wants Democratic voters to vote in droves and make sure the gap between the candidates is wide. Why? Because if the gap is narrow, the Russians might succeed in their scam to rig the election. Oops – did we just say rig? Is Kaine, is Clinton, building a case similar to Trump’s and saying that the election is rigged? Are they preparing the ground to argue, in case they lose, against the results in certain states based on the suspicion that the Russians played with the machines and assisted Trump on his way to victory?

I assume the answer to this question is negative, but I’m not as certain that it will remain negative if the idea that Russia is interfering with the results becomes an actual Election Day suspicion. Simply put: Trump keeps telling us that the election is rigged, but it is not impossible to envision a situation in which Clinton makes such a case following the election.

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