Politics & Policy

What Putin’s Embrace of Trump Tells Us about Trump

(Dennis Grombkowski/Getty

The Republican electorate and establishment have two viable candidates to choose from at this late stage. The first is a billionaire from New York named Donald Trump who displays few conservative values, wants to dismantle U.S. leadership around the world, and uses demagoguery to exploit the legitimate frustrations of Americans worried about the decline of their country. The other is a Republican senator from Texas named Ted Cruz who is now the only credible alternative to Trump.

But, in addition to Trump’s false conservatism, longtime support for Hillary Clinton, and transgression from the most sacred principles of our party, Republicans should consider his coziness with Vladimir Putin and what this tells us about Trump. At a news conference last year, Russia’s authoritarian president referred to Trump as “very bright” and “talented without doubt.” In response, Trump said, “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”

Putin is certainly well respected within nationalist, anti-U.S. segments of the Russian population. These America-haters openly support Donald Trump. It is especially noteworthy that the man who is considered Putin’s ideological inspiration — Aleksandr Dugin — has endorsed Trump. In February, Dugin wrote, “Trump is a leader,” adding: “We want to put trust in Donald Trump. Vote for Trump and see what will happen.” This is high praise from a man who wants Russia to adopt a “genuine, true, radically revolutionary and consistent, fascist fascism.” He also believes that “only a global crusade against the U.S. . . . is capable of being an adequate response” and declares that the “American Empire should be destroyed.”

Ted Cruz says that Putin is a bully and that the American president must negotiate with him only from a position of strength.

And what of Ted Cruz’s attitude toward Putin? Cruz has consistently recognized the threats and challenges posed by Russia. He rightly criticizes President Obama over his failure to thwart Kremlin policies that are undermining U.S. interests throughout the world. Senator Cruz calls Putin a thug and gives voice to the brave Russians who have made countless sacrifices as they strive to democratize their country and counter the Kremlin’s human-rights abuses. Trump, on the other hand, refuses to even acknowledge let alone condemn Vladimir Putin’s complicity in the murder of dozens of journalists during his 16 years in power.

Ted Cruz says that Putin is a bully and that the American president must negotiate with him only from a position of strength. President Obama’s policy, Cruz contends, is to appease adversaries such as Putin and abandon friends. Donald Trump makes essentially the same criticisms of Putin and Obama, but his proposed policies and his desire to move out of Putin’s way in Syria and Ukraine are much closer to appeasement than strength.

If the U.S. became a Putin-style managed democracy, we would see repression of political opponents, a clampdown on media freedom, and little tolerance for civil society.

The Republican electorate and establishment must ask themselves what Putin’s embrace of Trump says about the real-estate mogul. What does it reveal — not about his foreign policy but about Donald Trump the person? It should be clear to everyone that Putin wants to see the United States weakened and does not have our country’s best interests at heart. For years, Putin has listened as American and Western leaders have urged him to move away from repression and authoritarianism, but he has openly and consistently rejected democracy. Instead, Putin has opted for what he refers to as “managed democracy” — an oxymoron if ever there were one.

There is no doubt that Putin would be maliciously gleeful if an American president adopted his style of autocratic governance. And this is exactly why Putin supports Donald Trump. The two men are authoritarian kindred spirits. If the U.S. became a Putin-style managed democracy, we would see repression of political opponents, a clampdown on media freedom, and little tolerance for civil society.

Does this seem like a far-fetched scenario for our country if Trump were to win the presidency? It would be a mistake to assume that. Those who refuse to take seriously the evidence of Trump’s authoritarian attitudes, his contempt for American values, and his willingness to disregard the Constitution should reconsider — they should sincerely reflect on the man that Vladimir Putin would like to see as our next president.

Putin wants a United States that is weak, divided, and in conflict with its own ideals. This is exactly what he will get if Donald Trump becomes president.

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