Putin Wins Sham Election, Trump Battles FBI

To no one’s surprise, Vladimir Putin wins reelection in Russia. Donald Trump goes to war on the FBI.

Russian president Vladimir Putin participates in a videoconference from the Kremlin in Moscow, December 27, 2016
Russian president Vladimir Putin participates in a videoconference from the Kremlin in Moscow, December 27, 2016 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

To no one’s surprise, Russia’s Vladimir Putin won another six-year term as president on Sunday. Against a slew of unimpressive, Kremlin-approved candidates, Putin supposedly won 76 percent support with 67 percent turnout.

Here is the best analysis I’m reading:

  • Robert Coalson: The Kremlin has placed Putin entirely above and outside of politics. His supporters may complain about various policies or problems in their lives, but they don’t connect those problems with Putin.
  • Mark Galeotti: Having turned the law into an instrument of state policy and private vendetta, having turned the legislature into a caricature without power of independence, and having encouraged a carnivorous culture of self-aggrandisement and enrichment, can Putin afford to become an ex-president? Conventional wisdom would say that he cannot; without being at the top of the system, he is at best vulnerable, at worst dead, and he knows it.
  • Torrey Taussig: One of the greatest threats to a personalist regime’s stability is succession. Systems governed around a cult of the individual set up a self-defeating incentive structure. Once power has been consolidated, the leader will seek to eliminate able and ambitious competitors who could threaten his rule. This strategy, while effective in the short term, hollows out the leadership funnel in the long term. Unlike in autocracies run by strong parties, in which leaders rise within the party’s hierarchy, personalist systems have no institutional structure for preparing the next generation of autocrats.

Bumbling strongman

Yascha Mounk argues in Slate that the reason Donald Trump has been less successful than populist strongmen elsewhere is not that American institutions are so much stronger, but that he is so bad at it.

Take Trump’s recent admonition of Republicans in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, calling them “petrified” of the National Rifle Association. Trump seemed to side with the popular majority in supporting gun control — only to back down when it came to making policy.

Imagine he had defied his own party and introduced popular gun legislation. “Voters who are very liberal or highly politically engaged would likely dismiss such a move as an uncharacteristic aberration,” writes Mounk. “But there are few of those.”

The bulk of Americans — those who don’t pay much attention to politics or have ideologically muddled views — would probably start to temper their negative opinion of the president. And if that result then served as a blueprint for similar bargains on other issues, average Americans might just start to like him.

Too bad / fortunately, Trump is incapable of smart politics.

Steve Keller argued much the same here last year.

Trump’s war on the FBI

The president continues to war on his own FBI, most recently firing Andrew McCabe, the bureau’s former deputy director, 26 hours before he would have qualified for a pension.

Petty, vindictive — and classic Trump.

In a tweet, Trump alleged that McCabe had known “all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI”.

That must have been around the time Trump and the Republicans praised the bureau for investigating Hillary Clinton’s phony email scandal…

Lawfare has more. Also read Chris Hayes in The New York Times on what “law and order” means to Trump and his supporters: not the rule of law, but the preservation of a social order that favors white men.

Trump’s drug plan

Trump is due to unveil his drug policy in New Hampshire today. Read the good, bad and ugly in his plan.

Germans prefer Putin over Trump

  • A poll for broadcaster ZDF found that 82 percent of Germans worry about the policies of Donald Trump. Only 44 percent worry about Vladimir Putin’s.
  • Another survey published in Die Welt found that 56 percent of Germans favor rapprochement with Russia. Only 26 percent believe their country should distance itself further from Moscow.