Opinion: Here’s Why Putin Loved the Biden/Trump Debate

The Russian leader’s poodle, Donald Trump, confidently sold his authoritarian policies and talking points.Published Jun. 28, 2024 12:09AM EDT opinionPhoto Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/ReutersIf Vladimir Putin got up early to watch the U.S. presidential debate, he might have called for a bottle of champagne to go with his breakfast.It is impossible to imagine that Putin would

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The Russian leader’s poodle, Donald Trump, confidently sold his authoritarian policies and talking points.

David Rothkopf

opinion

Photo illustration of Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and Vladimir Putin

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters

If Vladimir Putin got up early to watch the U.S. presidential debate, he might have called for a bottle of champagne to go with his breakfast.

It is impossible to imagine that Putin would not have loved what he saw and heard. His candidate, Donald Trump—a man whose election in November would guarantee Putin’s victory in Ukraine and open the door to his conquest of Europe and the downfall of democracy in America—appeared to move closer to victory in November. Meanwhile, Trump’s opponent, the only man who stands between Putin and Trump and their desired goals, seemed to struggle.

Admittedly, one of the reasons President Joe Biden seemed muted, especially at first, was that he had a cold. Another was that Trump produced such a tsunami of lies, that Biden hardly knew where to fact check or call him out first. It was a tactic straight out of the playbook of one of Putin’s favorite generals, soon-to-be-jailbird, Mr. “Flood the Zone with Shit,” Steve Bannon.

Compounding that particular challenge was that the debate moderators were absolutely inert, potted plants, never once challenging Trump on even his most egregious lies (about Dems wanting to perform abortions after children were born or that old favorite, whether or not there was fraud distorting the 2020 election results).

The result was a format that allowed Trump to go from one lie to another while Biden presented facts, that allowed Trump to present lunatic policies (like replacing our tax code with a universal tariff) while Biden offered serious ones, and for both to appear identical, the same.

There was barely any mention of Trump’s conviction on 34 felony counts—and when it happened, the debate was already half over. There was little reference to Trump’s civil suits. In fact, the most heated debate in which he and Biden engaged was over their golf handicaps.

Putin must have been lapping it up over his breakfast of eggs poached in the tears of kidnapped Ukrainian children. What a show these Americans make of democracy, he must have laughed to himself, and yet how quickly they seem to be moving toward ending it.

No doubt he then thought of the words of Nikita Khrushchev, who said, “We will take America without firing a shot. We do not have to invade the U.S. We will destroy you from within.” And, of course, who would the vehicle for the mission be but a man who embodied every flaw of decadent and corrupt American society, Trump. My useful idiot, he probably purred.

Trump did as he was told. He emphasized how many Ukrainians had died “for no reason.” He blamed the war on Biden not Putin. He said he would end the war instantly—and while he evaded questions about whether he would cede to Putin the land Russia has seized, Trump did not hesitate to revert to his old lies about Biden and Ukrainian corruption. When Biden pressed Trump about his desire to pull out of NATO…a desire that has been confirmed by former top officials in Trump’s administration like ex-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper…Trump dodged the issue.

Trump repeatedly made the case that America was weak and faltering. He suggested Europe was not doing its share. He even went so far as to blame the Gaza war (that Russia helped encourage as a useful distraction from Ukraine) on Biden.

Most importantly, in terms of Putin’s long term goals, Trump once again defended the Jan. 6 rioters, said the insurrection was the fault of Nancy Pelosi, and then refused to say he would honor the results of the 2024 elections.

Not Stalin, nor Brezhnev, nor his old boss Andropov had ever managed to blow up America’s system of government from within, to reduce confidence in it to the point that the main issue cited as a concern by most Americans is the future of democracy, and the candidate that they think, according to a recent poll, who would be best able to deal with that was…Putin’s poodle, Trump! Ha!

Da. Yes. He’ll handle it, all right.

Biden, in response, got the words right. If someone were to read the transcript of the debate, Biden did well. If someone were to read an article that included fact-checking of the candidates, it would be a disaster for Trump.

But Americans don’t read anymore. Instead, they get debates in small bites, howls on social media, Tweets, and Tik Toks. And the overwhelming reaction post-debate is that it’s a three-alarm crisis for the Biden campaign. Music to Putin’s ears.

We are now a big step closer to our goal because shallow Americans will be caught up in the optics of the debate and not the substance, because they will take a confident liar over a hesitant truth-teller every time. And because there is no way the Democrats will actually act on the fair criticisms of Biden’s performance or age, even though they have a bench full of excellent and capable alternative candidates—beginning with Vice President Kamala Harris—and make a change.

No, this debate, as ill-conceived and badly executed as it was, was almost certainly pleasing to the Russian president because it marked a big step closer to all his goals.

What a great way to start the day, thought Putin. Which is undoubtedly a very bad thing for the United States and its allies. We can only hope we all realize it before it is too late.

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