COMMENTARY: Just how much is Putin’s backing worth in election?

By Berl Falbaum

Before we get to the endorsement by Russian President Putin of Joe Biden for the presidency, a background story.

A few years ago, a good friend of mine, Joe Smith (not his real name), was running for Congress (he won) and was seeking endorsements from officeholders.

He was approached by a member of the Michigan State Legislature, Jim Johnson (not his real name), who had a reputation for corruption, lying and womanizing (Yeah, just like Trump).

“Joe,” said Johnson, “I really like you. Really, I do and I want you to win. But given my reputation which, incidentally, is totally undeserved, I don’t know what to do. Should I endorse or oppose you? Which will help you more?”

My friend was in a quandary. He did not want to tell the man to forget about the endorsement because it would imply that he shared the view of others that the man was a scumbag, and an endorsement or opposition would damage his campaign. He managed to escape by lying that he did not have time to discuss the implications of the “kind offer.”

When Putin recently threw his support behind Biden, I wondered if the Russian leader had heard of my story.

In case you missed it, Putin was asked recently who he favors in the upcoming election. The Russian president did not hesitate.

Yes, he said, he would work with any U.S. president whom the American people elect. But he added he liked Biden better because the sitting president is “more experienced, predictable, an old-school politician.”
Asked about Biden’s age and mental acuity, Putin said he has not noticed any issues, or any decline in Biden’s memory or mental awareness.

Referring to a meeting he had with Biden three years earlier in Switzerland, Putin said, “Even then people were saying that he was incompetent, but I did not see anything of the sort. Yes, he kept looking at his papers, but to be honest, I kept doing the same. There was nothing peculiar.”

Putin certainly remembers that Biden called him a “killer,” “murderous dictator” and “pure thug.” Perhaps Putin has decided to let bygones be bygones.

So, was Putin serious or did he have a Machiavellian strategy in mind? Did Putin believe that the endorsement from a brutal, murderous dictator would hurt Biden and throw votes to Trump? Or does he really believe that Biden is suffering from a decline in cognizance and believes the president would be easier to deceive than Trump?

On its face, one would think that Putin would embrace Trump who has shown his admiration for the Russian leader for seven years, all but kissing him on both cheeks. He may even have sent him a Valentine’s Day card.

In responding to the endorsement, Trump seemed to forget his unseemly fawning over Putin, stating Putin has given him “a great compliment, actually. Of course, he would say that he wants to have Biden because he is going to be given everything.”

Now the question becomes whether Trump was strategically suggesting that he would be tougher on Putin than Biden, believing that Putin would understand his response. Trying to give his criticism of Putin some credibility, the former president added, “Putin is not a fan of mine.”

The most difficult question is how will Biden react. He surely must be grateful for having such a world leader commend his abilities and testify to his mental astuteness.

But can he quote Putin to the American public? Can he say, “Did you hear what Putin said about me?”

Other questions: Will he list the endorsement on his campaign literature? Should he thank Putin -- privately or publicly? Does he call him an s.o.b. for the politically underhanded endorsement? If he does so on the record, would Putin sabotage Biden by revealing mistakes the president has made.

If we take this endorsement serious, the question is: how much is a Putin endorsement worth? Is there a pro-Putin faction in the U.S.? If so, how big is it, especially in swing states?

Wow, politics can sure become complicated. It is so dizzying.

The more I thought about this conundrum, the more I speculated that Putin and Trump may have planned this together. Sure, I know cynicism has its limits, but nevertheless, it is sort of fun to consider that. Moreover, several investigations found there was Russian interference in the 2020 election.

The White House, tossing gratitude to the winds, issued a statement asking that Putin “stay out of American elections.”

One thing is clear: Biden cannot say that he doesn’t remember receiving Putin’s endorsement.
Berl Falbaum is a long time political journalist and author.