There is no doubt among top intelligence officials that Russia will attempt to influence the US 2018 midterm elections. At a Senate Intelligence briefing on Tuesday morning, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates stated that “Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo said the same when asked in a BBC interview this week whether he expects Russian interference in the midterm elections. “I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that,” said Pompeo.
Studies have shown that Russian meddling in the 2016 election occurred in four ways. First, there were hacks into political organizations and staff, including the Democratic National Committee network and the email account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Second, attempts were made to hack into voter rolls in 21 states, though only a small number of the attempts were successful. Third, Russian news outlets disseminated media that attempted to discredit Secretary Clinton. And fourth, through the use of social media, bots, and trolls, Russia attempted to sow discord and influence voters.
Trump’s cavalier attitude toward the reports of Russian meddling has caused intense frustration among Democrats. It is unclear whether Trump’s aloofness stems from a desire to dispel rumors of collusion between his campaign and Russia, or because he wants to believe his success was solely the result of running a “great campaign.” But Democrats are concerned that Trump is not doing enough to mitigate future Russian attacks, and have recently published a report describing their concerns in full.
Attempts to interfere in the presidential election of 2016 were merely the latest in a pattern of attacks on western liberal democracies which are likely being coordinated at the highest level of the Russian government. In France, the far-right National Front Party led by Marine LePen received a 9 million euro loan from a Russian bank during France’s presidential election. And prior to the Brexit vote in the UK, Russian media outlets lavishly praised Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn for his tepid support of the Remain campaign.
Putin, Brexit, the National Front, the Austrian Freedom Party, and Donald Trump are all characterized by a “shared conservative reaction against liberalism, globalization, and multiculturalism,” wrote Larry Diamond in The Atlantic. Putin’s antipathy toward democracy stems from a fear that the fever for democratic governance that inspired the “color revolutions” in the early 2000s among former Soviet satellite states may someday spread to the Russian people as well.
Democrats in the US contend that it is of utmost importance to American democracy to continue sending zero-tolerance signals to Russia whenever it interferes in western elections. And they are worried that Trump’s choice to take a more “live and let live” approach to Russian relations will only make matters worse.