" When asked about Trump’s positive views of Putin, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was contemptuously dismissive: “Other than destroying every instrument of democracy in his own country, having opposition people killed, dismembering neighbors through military force, and being the benefactor of the butcher of Damascus, [Putin] is a good guy.” "
“Putin Wins” is the real headline of the 2016 American presidential election.

Who knows how the Russian cyber break-in of the Democratic National Convention’s emails will ultimately play out, but there are no happy endings.

The American intelligence community has irrefutable proof that the Russian government hacked into official Democratic and Republican sources in the run-up to the November elections. They have concluded that Russia’s Putin, with the judicious leaking of various emails relating to Hillary Clinton, was purposely trying to throw the election to Donald Trump. He succeeded.

As bad, from the point of view of Trump’s legitimacy, is his past praise of Russia’s strongman: Putin’s “been a leader, far more than our president,” Trump said during the presidential campaign.

If the election had been a runaway one for Trump, the hacking revelations would be no big deal.  Russian hacking into US government communications — and of course the reverse — is not revolutionary news, and the negative effect on US-Russian relations, which are hardly strong in any case, would dissipate over time.

But not now — not when President-elect Trump and Russia’s President Putin boast about their mutual admiration.

The possibility — likelihood? — that Hillary Clinton would have won the Electoral College vote without the Russian-created release of those damaging emails is very real. Add in the fact that Hillary won the popular count, quite convincingly, by nearly 3 million votes. Trump, already one of the most controversial individuals to ever get elected, will start his presidency with more than a few handicaps.

Is there anything that can be done to offset Putin's damage to our presidential election legitimacy?

A related, admittedly rhetorical question: is there anything that pro-Russian Trump would want done?

The Electoral College meets early next week, December 19th, to formally cast its votes. There are no legal obstacles for a member, chosen by the American voters, to cast his vote for whomever he wants. Our Founding Fathers designed it this way — as a hedge against an uninformed electorate voting for a would-be autocrat whose presidency might damage our democracy. So, legally, the members of the Electoral College could refuse to endorse Trump — exactly, one is tempted to add, as the Founding Fathers would have hoped.

Obviously, a Republican Electoral College voter who couldn’t stomach voting for Trump would cast his ballot for another Republican. It’s unimaginable that nearly 40 Republican members of the Electoral College would decide within the next few days not to vote for Trump. But, assuming for the moment that they did, it would not give the election to Hillary. It would merely toss the matter to the Republican-majority House of Representatives.



And then the House would be choosing our next president, a democratic (small and large “d”) nightmare. Since the Electoral College had rejected Trump — and the Republican Congress has hardly been his staunch supporter — they would no doubt choose one of the Republican also-rans.

Not Cruz. Maybe Rubio. Probably Kasich.

No matter — the above scenario is totally far-fetched. There are not going to be 40 Electoral College defectors; there won’t even be 4.  

So it’s back to the actual scenario, the real nightmare. The Republican Majority Leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell has given the go-ahead for the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate whether the Russians interfered with the election of our Republican president-elect. By Inauguration Day, or soon thereafter, President Trump’s election will have been shown to have been engineered by Vladimir Putin. President Trump will no doubt continue to call the charge “ridiculous,” losing more of his little remaining credibility.

Senator John McCain’s view of Putin is succinct: “a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America’s allies, and attempted to undermine America’s elections.’’ And it’s pretty much the standard view, on both sides of the aisle, in Washington these days. 

Except, of course, Donald Trump’s. When asked about Trump’s positive views of Putin, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was contemptuously dismissive: “Other than destroying every instrument of democracy in his own country, having opposition people killed, dismembering neighbors through military force, and being the benefactor of the butcher of Damascus, [Putin] is a good guy.”

Donald Trump’s presidency is looking more problematic by the day. Trump was not elected for his international sophistication. Throw in Putin’s imprimatur — and add in, earlier this week, that Trump’s choice for Secretary of State is more than a passing acquaintance of Putin — and Trump, the man who will be running the United States for the next four years, seems only to be digging a deeper hole. And we’re all in it.

It would be amusing to watch President Trump, as he blunders through the upcoming years, making a fool of himself — if it were only himself he was making a fool of.