I'd like to preface all of this with the caveat that we don't yet have hard evidence showing specific alterations in the midterm election results. And, with that in mind, I'd also like to suggest that, yes, Russia most likely played a part in changing the outcome in several key races.
Long before the election, you might've heard me warning that Russia isn't done with its active measures against American democracy in support of complete and utter chaos. During my podcast and in at least one published article, I forecasted the following based on red-flags throughout the year.
While, sure, it’s possible everything will go smoothly, it makes sense to prepare ourselves for a series of races on the evening of Nov. 6 to be “too close to call” and which then lean Republican in the end. The closeness will dissuade the press from asking questions and will surely make it more difficult for activists to point to Russian and/or Republican shenanigans.
I can't help but to recall the above prediction from last August whenever I consider what happened in Florida with both the governor's race, Gillum vs. DeSantis, and the race for U.S. Senate, Bill Nelson vs. Rick Scott.
According to Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight, both Gillum and Nelson were set to squeak out narrow victories. Gillum was forecasted to win by around four points, and Nelson was expected to win by around three points. Tight as hell and within the margin of error, right? Sure.
And, of course, we all know how both races turned out in the end. Neither Democrat won following a highly contentious recount fight leaving the final margin in the Nelson/Scott race at 0.2 points in favor of Scott, and the Gillum/DeSantis margin at 0.4 points with Trump clone DeSantis ending up on top.
As I outlined in my prediction, these elections swung narrowly from being narrow Democratic wins to wafer-thin Republican victories with very few pundits or reporters taking seriously the possibility that Russia might've been screwing around in the Florida election systems. Remarkable, given how important Florida will be for Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
Were the Florida results altered by Russia? Again, it's unclear at the moment. However, we have two indications that they might've been.
First, Bill Nelson said out loud that Russia was inside Florida's election systems, moving about freely. In fact, his exact words were: “They have already penetrated certain counties in the state, and they now have free rein to move about.” While it’s possible Nelson was referencing reports showing that Russians had been able to penetrate election systems in more than 20 states, including Florida, back in 2016, it’s also possible that Nelson was privy to new information that we should probably take more seriously.
Second, Defense Secretary "Mad Dog" Mattis blurted the other that Russia meddled in the midterm election. The AP reported via MaddowBlog:
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Saturday took aim at Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of trying to “muck around” in the U.S. midterm elections, of duplicity in arms control and of acting irresponsibly in last weekend’s naval confrontation with Ukraine. […]
“We are dealing with someone that we simply cannot trust,” he said. “There is no doubt the relationship has worsened.” Mattis did not elaborate on his claim that Russia tried to interfere in last month’s elections, adding only, “We are seeing a continued effort along those lines.”
Now, it wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility that Mattis was trying to de-legitimize the Blue Wave. His remarks are unclear from a partisan point-of-view, and he is, after all, Trump's guy at the Pentagon. On the other hand, Mattis isn't known to be a political fire-eater despite his campy nickname, and Trump himself never bothered to endorse Mattis's statement. It's equally as likely he's simply telling it like it is.
Either way, it's crucial that we keep our eyes open. Just because things turned out well for the Democrats this time doesn't mean Russia has skulked away from our elections. Putin has a taste for it now, especially knowing he was able to telegraph Russia's cyber-prowess amid a Russian economy that's in the crapper and a Russian GDP that's worse than Italy's. The Russian strongman isn't about to give up his political mojo any time soon.
Meanwhile, we'll wait and see if further evidence, perhaps even legally actionable evidence, emerges from Florida, though I imagine Russia was better at covering its tracks this time.
Photo credit: Getty Images
(PS. There were plenty of other indications prior to the election, too. I outlined several of them here.)