Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Allegations of Foreign Election Tampering Have Always Rung Hollow

by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review

Blaming foreign influence on an election loss has become a habitual practice for unsuccessful presidential candidates, but such allegations have never rung true.

On her current book tour, Hillary Clinton is still blaming the Russians (among others) for her unexpected defeat in last year’s presidential election. She remains sold on a conspiracy theory that Donald Trump successfully colluded with Russian president Vladimir Putin to rig the election in Trump’s favor.

But allegations that a president won an election due to foreign collusion have been lodged by losers of elections throughout history. Some of the charges may have had a kernel of truth, but it has never been proven that foreign tampering changed the outcome of an election.

In 2012, then-president Barack Obama inadvertently left his mic on during a meeting with outgoing Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. Obama seemed to be reassuring the Russians that if they would just behave (i.e., give Obama “space”) during his re-election campaign, Obama would have “more flexibility” on Russian demands for the U.S. to drop its plans for an Eastern European missile defense system.

Medvedev’s successor, Vladimir Putin, did stay quiet for most of 2012. Obama did renege on earlier American promises of missile defense in Eastern Europe. And Obama did win re-election.

But that said, Obama would have defeated Mitt Romney anyway, even without an informal understanding with Russia.

In 2004, there were accusations that the George W. Bush administration had struck a deal with the Saudi royal family whereby the Saudis would pump more oil, leading to lower U.S. gas prices. Bush supposedly wanted to take credit for helping American motorists and therefore enhance his re-election bid.

Whether the conspiracy theory was true or not, Bush beat lackluster Democratic nominee John Kerry for lots of reasons other than modest decreases in gasoline prices.

During the 1980 presidential campaign, supporters of incumbent president Jimmy Carter alleged that challenger Ronald Reagan had tried to disrupt negotiations for the release of the American hostages being held in Teheran. They claimed that Reagan’s team had sent word to the Iranians that they should keep the hostages until after the election.

The Reagan team countercharged that Carter himself timed a hostage rescue effort near the election to salvage his failing re-election bid.

The truth was that by November, nothing Reagan or Carter did could change the fact that Carter was going to lose by a large margin.

Sometimes challengers have been accused of turning to foreigners for election help.

There were allegations that in 2008, Obama secretly lobbied Iraqi officials not to cut a deal with the outgoing Bush administration concerning U.S. peacekeepers in Iraq. Supposedly, Obama didn’t want a stable Iraq, which might have helped Iraq War supporter and rival candidate John McCain, who had argued that after the surge, Iraq was largely under control.

 

Such allegations were mostly irrelevant, given that there were plenty of other reasons why McCain lost the election.

 

There were also allegations that in 1983, Senator Ted Kennedy sent a letter to Russian leader Yuri Andropov, asking him not to overreact to President Ronald Reagan’s hard-nosed anti-Soviet stance. This was supposedly an attempt to undercut Reagan before the 1984 election. Whether the rumor was true or not was immaterial: Reagan beat Democratic nominee Walter Mondale by a landslide.

 

Recently, another old charge of foreign collusion has been resurrected. Democrats allege that during the 1968 campaign, Republican nominee Richard Nixon opened a back channel to the South Vietnamese to convince them to stall peace talks to end the Vietnam War. Supposedly, Nixon was worried that President Lyndon Johnson might order a halt to the bombing. Then, Johnson opportunistically would start peace talks in order to help his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, defeat Nixon in the election.

 

Regardless of these unproven charges and countercharges, Nixon’s narrow victory in 1968 was a result instead of a law-and-order message, a new Southern strategy, the third-party candidacy of Democrat George Wallace, an unpopular incumbent Democratic president, an inept Humphrey campaign, and unhappiness with the ongoing quagmire in Vietnam.

 

What can we conclude about these multiple charges that foreigners polluted an American presidential election?

 

One, these charges have been habitual, and only leveled by the failed candidate, blaming a shadowy conspiracy rather than the loser’s own poorly conducted campaign or lack of political support.

 

Two, even if some collusion charges had elements of truth, they did not affect the final outcome of an election. There were always other far more important and decisive issues that won or lost voters over months of campaigning.

 

Three, most presidents and their political challengers have in some way attempted to massage events to favor their candidacies — synchronizing legislative agendas, peace initiatives, summits, national addresses, or surprise disclosures of scandals to enhance their campaign messages.

 

Hillary Clinton lost the election for dozens of logical reasons. Foreign collusion was never one of them — nor has it ever been a valid reason for a presidential candidate’s defeat.

 

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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