A lot of ink has been spilled on Donald Trump's affinity for conspiracy theories. Far less attention has been paid to all the anti-Trump conspiracy stories out there. But they exist too, and some of them have been influential; so I wrote an article about them for The Washington Post. Here's an excerpt:
[T]he biggest Trump conspiracy stories are the ones that call the candidate a tentacle of the Kremlin. Half a year ago, this idea was largely limited to the fringes, where it was flogged by folks like Cliff Kincaid, a conservative gadfly who posed such queries as "Is Trump a sleeper agent for Moscow?" The idea started percolating into the mainstream media over the summer. It picked up steam after WikiLeaks' release of the Democratic National Committee's emails, a data dump many blamed on Russian hackers.
Eventually it made its way to the Clinton campaign, which now has a page on its website devoted to the topic, framed in just-asking-questions style: "Why does Trump surround himself with advisers with links to the Kremlin?" "Why do Trump's foreign policy ideas read like a Putin wish list?" "Do Trump's still-secret tax returns show ties to Russian oligarchs?" The whole thing feels like a throwback to the Cold War, though in those days such intimations were usually reserved for candidates on the left. (Not always, though. In 1952, the Democratic pol Averell Harriman called Republican Sen. Robert Taft "the Kremlin's candidate.")
At the core of this idea is a genuine intersection of interests. Trump and Vladimir Putin do have similar views on several issues, and Putin may well be rooting for the Republican. That is not a conspiracy or even in itself a strong argument against Trump—unless you think U.S. foreign policy should be based on doing the opposite of what Putin wants in all circumstances. But it's the starting point. The Putin/Trump theorists jump from there to a plausible-but-unproven possibility (that Russia was behind the exposure of the DNC's emails), and from there to wilder speculations that Trump is a Putinist puppet, based on various "suggestive" "links" between the two.
The piece has more to say about the Putin/Trump allegations, and about some other Trump tales too; it also has some broader thoughts about election conspiracy theories (and bona-fide election conspiracies). You can read the whole thing here. If you want to see what I have to say about Trump's own conspiracy rhetoric, go here. And if you want to buy my book about conspiracy stories (or just poke around in it with Amazon's "look inside" feature), go here.