I decided to invest some time in Keith Gessen’s widely discussed Putin essay, some of which is useful and some of which is strawman burning (who, exactly, thinks that deploying ratfucking principles Don Segretti had probably mastered before he left elementary school makes Vladimir Putin some kind of omnipotent SUPERGENIUS?) But it’s hard for me to get beyond the argument boldfaced below, and I’m equally amazed to see other people parroting it:
There is no reason at this point to dispute the consensus view of most intelligence analysts that Russian agents hacked the DNC and then leaked the emails to Julian Assange; it is also a well-known fact that Putin hated Hillary Clinton.
Furthermore, it is true that the election was very close, and it did not take much to tip the result to one side. But it is also essential to remember that there was hardly anything damaging in the leaked DNC emails.
It is true that the Wikileaks DNC leaks revealed nothing remotely resembling substantial misconduct by Hillary Clinton and indeed nothing even of much interest to anyone with a basic familiarity with how politics works. (It is amusing to see Gessen’s essay getting such high praise from people who tried to hype up inane trivia from the DNC leaks as if they had just uncovered Watergate, but moving right along.) But what is genuinely astounding is that anyone could argue at this late date that if a Clinton scandal ultimately didn’t have any real content it therefore couldn’t have been politically damaging.
In the next graf, Gessen adduces “the 25-year rightwing war on the Clintons” as a variable that affected the election, and true enough although I think this common formulation obscures the role that mainstream media outlets (with the New York Times at the front of the line) have played in this. But, to state the obvious, from Whitewater to EMAILS! “scandals” that turn out to consist of nothing have always been the chief weapons deployed in this war. Trump knew what he was doing when he mentioned the leaks constantly — whether there was anything objectively important revealed by them is completely beside the point. After all, Gessen recognizes the importance of the Comey letter, but this also involved no actual information about a microscandal nobody would have cared about if it involved anybody but Hillary Clinton.
It’s impossible to know with any precision what role the DNC hacks played in the outcome of the election. I’m more inclined to focus on Comey because the nature of his interventions make it easier to isolate the effects, and the evidence that they changed the outcome of the election is overwhelming. But the Comey letter didn’t occur in a vacuum; it mattered because a deep foundation of EMAILS! hysteria had already been laid, and the Wikileaks drip helped keep the Jason Chaffetz’s party going — and, indeed, I’m sure many voters just conflated the DNC leaks with the general EMAILS! pseudo-scandal. It would be wrong to blame Russia and Russia alone for Trump winning, although I don’t know who’s doing that. (Gessen cites but does not link to a “report” attributing this view to “Clinton and her campaign”; I’ll believe it when I actually see it.) But to assert that because the DNC leaks were ultimately about nothing they couldn’t have hurt Clinton’s campaign couldn’t possibly be more wrong.