The news that alleged Russian agent Maria Butina was trying to partner with the wife of the former President of the NRA and CPAC on a ridiculous and massive oil deal with fuel from Russia is entirely, wholly expected, entirely to form. The original Times story actually contains this line, which is revealing on a number of levels: “During her time in the United States, she surrounded herself not only with high-profile American conservatives but also with dubious characters who seemed bent on making a fast buck — and it was not always easy to tell one from the other.
Simple point: there’s no bright line. They’re often the same people. That’s why the Russians targeted them in the first place. Across the board, in their efforts to infiltrate American politics by way of the conservative movement and the GOP, Russian efforts were based on a simple insight: contemporary conservative politics is notoriously corrupt. It is no accident that President Trump now embodies the GOP and what now counts as conservatism. His corruption, his addiction to the grift, does embody it.
In this case, I don’t simply or even primarily mean criminal corruption. I mean the often legal ways that contemporary conservative politics is dominated by efforts to sell extremism and victimology to conservative political consumers for huge financial returns. That might be gun-paranoia, high mark-up gold conservatives are hyped up to buy with endless pitches on Fox News channel, or just male enhancement supplements that apparently fund InfoWars. Much of it runs under the surface because the people getting fleeced are mainly conservative voters; no one has an interest in caring.
This will unquestionably be a big part of the story of what brought Russia and President Trump together. It’s why they focused so much attention on the NRA in the first place: openness to corruption is always an indicator for openness to subversion. The NRA, whatever its role in promoting gun extremism, is also a huge grifting operation. The Russians knew and know just who they were dealing with.