Is 2020 U.S. Presidential Election Going To Be Russia Vs. China?

Chinese government photo of visit with President Xi in Beijing, November 2017

We can’t get the idea out of our heads. And since Trump put it there, we probably shouldn’t pay it much heed. Still, it’s intriguing…

Trump’s not suggesting it directly. But he keeps Tweeting away about how China backed away from a deal with him because:

“China felt they were being beaten so badly in the recent negotiation that they may as well wait around for the next election, 2020, to see if they could get lucky & have a Democrat win.”

Of course, his core objective (as always), is to blame his failures on Democrats. And China trade is by no means an unequivocal “fail” yet. So at this point, Trump’s just trying to insulate himself should China remain steadfast, making him look bad. (One interesting side note: ALL the stories we’ve seen coming out of China’s state-run media since talks broke down emphasize one word: “dignity”. Which underscores the idea that China was unwilling to actually go and change its own laws on behest of the U.S.)

But what if China’s “DREAM” winds up being more than a dream? What if China hacks and actively tries to interfere in 2020, just like Russia did in 2016? And we all know Russia’s going to be back at it. Just—if Trump’s narrative is correct—they’ll be on opposite sides.

At first blush it would still seem to be advantage Trump. Because Trump will be inclined to let Russia do its thing again, if they’re going to be helping him again. After all, Attorney General Bill Barr emphasizes: “Under applicable law, publication of [stolen] materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy.” Which may be true, but also serves (inadvertently or not) as an open invitation to do it.

Especially since Trump seems insistent that the Department of Homeland Security keep laser-focused on immigrants at the Southern Border, when it’s their responsibility too to make sure elections aren’t sullied by cyber-attacks.

Accept for a moment that the Mueller report does completely exonerate Trump: no collusion, no obstruction.

But Trump takes it a step farther, never definitively agreeing that Russia hacked and intervened in his election on his behalf. Because that would cheapen his victory. The closest we could find to admitting Russia had a role is this: “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election“. But we still can’t find anything where he’s said Russia definitely did. He still, to this day, calls it the “Russia hoax”.

But one thing the Mueller report does not hedge on at all is that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was anything but a hoax. It was a well-orchestrated effort conceived, planned and execute at the top level of the Russian government.

So it’s not a stretch to speculate Russia will be a player again, and that Trump may be idle; inclined to let that slide.

But should China get in on behalf of his opponent, just watch: his administration will suddenly be all over it.

And if we really thought Trump was a master strategist, we might even see some method behind it. Using efforts to block anti-Trump hacking by China as a smokescreen to divert pro-Trump hacking by Russia.

But would any of that really even matter? China is every bit the sophisticated hacker and clever propagandist as Russia. As one top security expert told us, it’s already a never ending battle, and the best he can hope to do defensively is stay about 10 days ahead of it. With an event with a finite date, like an election, staying 10 days ahead until November 2020 might be good enough. Then again, the attacks are sure to intensify and attackers grow more inventive, so defensive efforts could simply be overwhelmed. Especially if the Administration is currently putting next-to-no emphasis on that threat. Of course there could be a lot of great election security stuff going on we don’t know about. But we think it’s fair to say the President, at least publicly, has next-to-no interest in prioritizing keeping the next Presidential election “clean” even in light of what we now know happened in 2016 thanks to the Mueller report, and myriad new threats.

Now we fear we’re really starting to go off the deep-end in what is already an unusually conspiracy theory-ish column for us. So we’ll stop.

We do want to end today by pointing out just one more thing: there’s been lots of coverage of Trump’s insistence that his new tariffs are being paid for by China, and why that’s not true. But there’s even a bigger lie Trump keeps telling that hasn’t been as widely debunked, and that’s China running a trade surplus means they “rip-off the USA for $500-billion a year”. While it’s definitely an imbalance that badly needs to be fixed, it’s not theft. If you buy a car from me for $10,000 and I buy a pear from you for 50-cents, that doesn’t mean I stole $9999.50 from you, because you got a car! And I got a pear.