Even the most plain-vanilla presidential races are filled with conspiracy talk. Pundits speculate about secret deals. Reporters chase down candidates’ financial ties and look for quid pro quos. Activists parse speeches for secret messages —dog whistles— pitched at frequencies only certain constituencies can hear. Pretty much everyone acknowledges that such small-scale conspiring takes place. And pretty much everyone acknowledges that larger conspiracies are sometimes at work, such as Richard Nixon’s sabotage and surveillance operations in 1972. In each party’s base, rumors circulate every four years. Under certain circumstances, some of those rumors might find their way to the lips of campaign officials.
But which stories take hold, and why? While there are plenty of reasons the Russia theory would find a receptive audience, given the unpopularity of both Putin and Trump with large segments of the electorate, one element of these accusations may be especially appealing to Trump’s foes.
By linking the candidate to Moscow, this narrative suggests that Trump is precisely the sort of threat that he constantly warns against. His political rise began five years ago when he embraced birtherism — the notion that President Obama is a foreigner who has been hiding his origins from the public. The idea that Trump is a foreign pawn flips that script on its head; now it is a prominent birther who stands accused of uncertain loyalties. The Putin story invites voters to reject Trump on Trumpian grounds, a combination that could undermine the man’s appeal. But by amplifying anxieties about outsiders, it may reinforce a fear that isn’t so far from Trumpism.
Paranoia seems to require being imitated to be understood,Eve Sedgwick once wrote,and it, in turn, seems to understand only by imitation.Like a vast conspiracy, it’s everywhere.
–Jesse Walker, Sure, Trump loves conspiracy theories. So do his foes.
Washington Post, 12 Sextilis 2016