What would happen if Vladimir Putin simply decided he didn't feel like campaigning?
Would it even make a difference?
Would anybody even notice?
It's a valid question and one that Russian opposition journalist Oleg Kashin playfully asked in a column earlier this week after the Kremlin announced that Putin was suffering from a cold and had canceled his upcoming public appearances.
Kashin called the news "senseless," noting that: "When Putin is healthy, his 'working meetings' are shown on television. And when Putin is ill, his 'working meetings' are shown on television. There is no difference at all."
Noting that "Putin's media file is huge," Kashin added that if he didn't feel like campaigning, then "it's time to turn to the archives."
He has a point. Of course, Putin doesn't need to campaign.
Consider the following: According to a recent study by the Kremlin-connected VTsIOM polling agency, Putin appeared in the Russian media no less than 59,130 times from February 8-13.
In case anybody is doing the math, that is more than 10,000 times a day, more than all of the other candidates combined.
Now, this all hits on a truth -- not just about this event the Kremlin insists on calling an election, but about the Putin regime in general -- that is both obvious and also fundamental to understanding its nature.
It is based on an illusion and on a collective hallucination.
But the man at the center of the illusion and the hallucination appears to be getting bored with even going through the motions of maintaining it.
As the Dutch journalist and publicist Diederik Kramers noted on Twitter: "In Soviet times, when the leader had a cold, people thought he was dead. Now they think he is just dead tired of his election."