Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, joining the emerging Serious Conservative consensus on the Russian collusion question ("The 'Manchurian' President?"):
The whole Russia affair might, in other words, just be what it looks like when an inexperienced, incompetent and, yes, sordid presidential apparatus tries to pursue a different foreign policy agenda than its predecessors.Nothing to see here, folks! Just some of that there rookie naïveté that's been going around, and sordidity of course. It's bound to look as if the Trump administration has sold itself to the pursuit of Putinian interests, because that's the way the incompetent and sordid always roll, but that doesn't mean they actually have.
It's just the same as when the poorly trained Bullwinkle pulls a bear out of his hat instead of a rabbit. You think he must have done it on purpose, but it's really just an accident brought on by his inexperience. And sordidness.
In point of fact—spoiler alert!—Bullwinkle is a cartoon moose. So there's no need to come up with a naturalistic explanation of why the trick works out that way, any more than there is for the fact that the moose is a fluent English speaker and biped wearing a tailcoat with a missing sleeve.
The same kind of argument goes, mutatis mutandis, for Richard Condon's beloved novel The Manchurian Candidate (1959), which according to the Monsignor provides an illustrative counterexample to the hypothesis that Emperor Trump or some of his court attendants are in some sense Russian agents. See, in the novel, as he summarizes (another spoiler),
an international operation conspires to place a Communist agent in the White House. The mechanism is complicated, involving brainwashing, fake heroism and an assassination scheme, but the core conceit has a distinctive genius: The agent of influence the Communists intend to raise to the presidency is basically a Joseph McCarthy figure — a right-wing politician named Johnny Iselin who rants about Red infiltrators even as he’s actually being manipulated himself, by a Machiavellian wife who takes her orders from Moscow or Beijing.Whereas Trump, far from crusading against the menace of creeping Putinism, openly supports it, in all sorts of respects, from the common hostility to journalists through fear of Muslims to hatred of multilateral trade agreements, and boasts about how much Putin admires his genius. Obviously if anyone looks that much like a puppet that practically proves they aren't!
The thing is, The Manchurian Candidate is imaginative fiction. It does not provide a recipe for how you would go about installing an agent of foreign influence in the White House in real life. If you look at the real history of puppets, such as when the American Catholic Church and the CIA and friends helped wangle the South Vietnamese presidency for Ngô Đình Diệm, or when the CIA assisted their man, the late Manuel Noriega (RIP!) in getting into power after the mysterious death of Panama's leftist president Omar Torrijos, you'll note they picked people who agreed with the general ideological perspective of the puppeteers: Diệm a fervent religious maniac and anti-Communist, Noriega a post-ideological what's-in-it-for-me Reaganaut who practiced savage capitalism instead of wasting energy preaching it. Had Diệm been a Communist or pro-Buddhist fighter against imperialism himself, the way Senator Iselin was a McCarthyite, it might have gotten him a lot of local support, but it would have made it difficult for him to explain why he was fighting the Việt Cộng, which is what the Americans wanted him to do. (Condon evades the question of how Senator Iselin would go about implementing Soviet policy in the US by staging his dénouement before the election even takes place.)
By the same token, if Trump is Putin's Noriega, it's hard to see how useful he'd be to Putin in an anti-Putin disguise. He'd need to agree publicly with Putin to accomplish the things Putin wants. He works better as a Petersburg candidate, directly representing Putin's belief in oligarchical authority and cornering the market in everything.
There's more, but I think I'll just put this much up for now.