The ABC’s Media Watch host Paul Barry has no doubts, declaring last year: “Tonight, in a special program, we’re going to look at how Facebook and Twitter allowed their platforms to be used by Russia to swing the US presidential election and divide America.”
And there you have it.
Forget Clinton’s dreadful campaigning and her complete misjudgment of the political mood in the US. Ignore how eight years of President Barack Obama had doubled his nation’s debt and halved its morale. Pay no mind to an electorate weary of professional politicians and their scorn for so-called “flyover states”. Dismiss as inconsequential the open hostility towards ordinary voters evident among the Clinton-adoring elite media.
Tim Blair’s columns appear in every edition of Quadrant.
Click here to subscribe and duck the paywall
It was the Russians wot won it for Trump, plain and simple, and they achieved this merely by investing $146,000 or so in dumb Facebook ads and some Twitter nonsense. Or so the ABC (and many others) would have you believe.
Well, even if it was true that Dimitri, Vladislav and their Moscow mates turned millions of voters away from Hillary—and it wasn’t—I’m here to tell you those Russian meddlers were absolute amateurs. Basic beginners. Total trainees. When it comes to fixing the 2016 US election, they had as much influence as the ABC’s charter has on the ABC. None, in other words.
And I should know, because fourteen years ago I fixed the 2004 US election. And I did it without spending a single cent.
You see, instead of buying ad space online, I used idiots. But not just any idiots. For a job like this, you need the highest-quality idiots you can possibly find. I’m talking about idiots so over-educated and under-aware that their idiocy is almost transcendent, and whose vast reserves of ignorance and imagined superiority are a rich, usually untapped source of international election-swinging power.
I’m talking about British left-wing idiots.
It all began on September 27, 2004, when I mocked a piece by the British Guardian newspaper’s Jonathan Freedland. He was deeply concerned about the upcoming election battle between incumbent George W. Bush and Democrat rival John Kerry, and proposed that people outside the US be allowed to cast a ballot.
“If everyone in the world will be affected by this election,” Freedland pleaded, “shouldn’t everyone in the world have a vote?”
In response, I suggested at my website a refinement to that idea: “Here’s a way Freedland and his fellow meddlers can still have their say in the USA: each could simply identify and adopt a random individual living in one of the battleground states and target that person with emails, letters, and telephone calls begging them to vote against Bush.
“I’m sure average Americans will be pleased to receive whiny 3am calls from people called ‘Jonathan’, and will alter their vote accordingly.”
Bugger me, but the Guardian actually ran with this. On October 13, I received an unbidden email from the Guardian containing “the address of your voter in Clark County, Ohio. Please use it wisely.”
At the Guardian’s website, the just-launched Operation Clark County was explained in detail. “We have come up with a unique way for non-Americans to express your views on the policies and candidates in this election to some of the people best placed to decide its outcome,” the determinedly-lefty newspaper announced.
By typing your email address into the box on this page you will be sent a name and address of a voter in Clark County, Ohio from the most recent publicly available voters roll. You may not have heard of it, but it’s one of the most marginal areas in one of the most marginal states.
It’s a place where a change of mind among just a few voters could make a real difference.
Writing to a Clark County voter is a chance to explain how US policies effect [sic] you personally, and the rest of the world more generally, and who you hope they will send to the White House.
The Guardian later denied it lifted my idea, but that unsolicited e-mail remains one hell of a smoking gun. In any case, I didn’t mind, because from this point forward I knew exactly how things were going to work out. And it wouldn’t be pretty for the Guardian, John Kerry or Bush-hating leftists worldwide.
Backlash came immediately. The Guardian was regarded as rather influential back in 2004, so Operation Clark County gained significant coverage throughout the US. As you might expect, of course, voters profoundly resented this intrusion. The US hadn’t fought the War of Independence in order to be patronised by General Gage’s pallid, noodle-limbed descendants.
Instead of submitting to letters from the UK, Americans commenced a counter attack, bombarding individual Guardian staffers with hilariously abusive e-mails. “Real Americans aren’t interested in your pansy-ass, tea-sipping opinions,” read one typical missive. “If you want to have a meaningful election in your crappy little island full of yellow teeth, then maybe you should try not to sell your sovereignty out to Brussels,” roared another.
In Clark County itself, the Guardian’s campaign “prompted a surge of indignant local voters calling the county’s Republican Party offering to volunteer for Mr Bush,” according to the UK Telegraph, which also noted “mounting evidence that urging foreigners to send anti-Bush letters to Clark County—an isolated slice of the rural mid-West—was only hurting Senator John Kerry.”
Clark County’s local newspaper, the Springfield News-Sun, reported that the first woman to receive a letter from a Guardian reader, Kerry supporter Beverly Coale, promptly threw the document away for fear it was from a terrorist. Local Republican Party chairman Dan Harkins could not believe his luck. “This is a very competitive county, where the undecided vote is very small,” he said. “What the Guardian has done is firm up the Republican base. What a gift!”
Belatedly realising the destruction their campaign had wrought, on October 22 the Guardian shut down Operation Clark County. “Somewhere along the line,” wrote Guardian supplement editor Ian Katz, who claimed to have conceived the plan, “the good-humoured spirit of the enterprise got lost in translation.” I suppose that’s what happens when you translate Australian sarcasm into British snobbery.
But the best was yet to come. On election day in 2004, with the world fixated on the tight Kerry–Bush contest, I cared only for numbers emerging from Clark County and surrounding Ohio. Democrats had carried the county four years earlier by just 324 votes while Bush won the state by only 3.5 per cent, and he needed another Ohio win to continue his presidency.
It didn’t look good for the Republican. Most Ohioan urban centres went strongly to Kerry, who also scored increased majorities in twelve of the state’s sixteen Democrat-leaning counties. As Slate’s Andy Bowers observed: “Kerry won every Gore county in Ohio except Clark.”
Within that targeted county, however, it was a different story. “Nowhere among the Gore counties did more votes move from the blue to the red column than in Clark,” Bowers reported. “The Guardian’s Katz was quoted as saying it would be ‘self-aggrandising’ to claim Operation Clark County affected the election. Don’t be so modest, Ian.”
Al Gore’s 324-vote Clark County victory margin became a 1600-vote swing to George W. Bush in 2004. “You may recall that the Guardian, the leftist British newspaper, convinced its readers to participate in a letter-writing campaign to the residents of Clark County, asking them to vote for Kerry to save the world from Dubya,” National Review Online’s Michael Ledeen summarised.
“To say this scheme backfired is to fail to give it proper credit. It ranks right up there with the worst political schemes, ever.”
“Could the Guardian and its Operation Clark County be responsible for a second Bush term?” wondered BBC correspondent Kevin Anderson, who also picked up this happy note sent by a US reader of the Guardian’s website: “Just wanted to thank the Guardian for helping deliver Ohio to Bush. Cheers!” In a post-election interview, Ian Katz lamented: “We didn’t get Kerry elected and nobody’s going to be hiring me as a political strategist.”
Bush finally prevailed in Ohio by a mere 2.1 per cent. The state clearly swerved towards Kerry, only for his advantage to hit the Operation Clark County wall. Here’s a fun little exercise: shift Bush’s twenty Ohio electoral college votes into Kerry’s column. Hey presto! Ladies and gentlemen, by a margin of 271 to 266, John Forbes Kerry is the forty-fourth President of the United States.
And it might have turned out precisely that way if the Guardian hadn’t taken my unintentional bait. Fixing US elections is easy and fun. All you need are the right people on your team.