If Ronald Reagan could come back from the dead, he’d kick Donald Trump in the balls. Because somehow, astonishingly, the Republican candidate for president of the United States is pro-Russian and anti-NATO.
“NATO is obsolete and it’s extremely expensive for the United States, disproportionately so,” he said in March. “And we should readjust NATO.” In July,he told the New York Times that he would only assist European nations during a Russian invasion if they first “fulfilled their obligations to us.”
“Look at Putin,” Trump said in 2007. “Whether you like him or don’t like him—he’s doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period.” “I think I’d get along very well with Vladimir Putin,” he said last year. “I just think so.” “Will he become my new best friend?” he tweeted in 2013.
Many assumed he was joking last week when he called on Russia to hack former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
His tone of voice didn’t suggest he was kidding, and he doubled down on it the next day on Twitter. It wouldn’t be funny even if he were kidding, though, because it’s precisely in line with everything he has ever said about Russia and its dictator Vladimir Putin when nobody thought he was joking.
His respect for the Russian strongman is even creeping into his policies, such as they are. A few days ago he said he will “look into” recognizing Russian sovereignty over Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and dropping sanctions. And his campaign edited the Republican Party platform, substantially softening criticism of Russia’s invasion and dismemberment of its neighbor and weakening its support for the embattled pro-Western government in Kiev.
Trump supporters who are willing to admit that their man doesn’t know the first thing about world affairs—every single person in my comments section knows more about the subject than he does, including the trolls—say it’s okay because he’ll hire advisors who do. Well, his campaign chairman Paul Manafort spent much of the past decade working for Putin’s Ukrainian pawn Viktor Yanukovych until the revolution toppled him a couple of years ago. Trump advisor General Michael Flynn is a regular guest on Kremlin propaganda channel RT (Russia Today) and even sat next to Putin at RT’s anniversary celebration. And Trump’s foreign policy advisor Carter Page has close ties to the Kremlin and Russian gas giant Gazprom.
“If you’re not familiar with Gazprom,” Josh Marshall writes, “imagine if most or all of the US energy industry were rolled up into a single company and it were personally controlled by the US President who used it as a source of revenue and patronage. That is Gazprom’s role in the Russian political and economic system. It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot be involved with Gazprom at the very high level which Page has been without being wholly in alignment with Putin’s policies. Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time.”
Josh Marshall is a partisan Democrat. If you don’t like hearing it from him, you can get it from Robert Zubrin at the staunchly conservative National Review. “Carter Page is an out-and-out Putinite. A consultant to and investor in the Kremlin’s state-run gas company, Gazprom, Page has a direct financial interest in ending American sanctions against the company. Not only that, but Page is tight with the Kremlin’s foreign-policy apparatus and has served as a vehement propagandist for it.”
These are the people Donald Trump hired to hold his hand and tell him what’s what.
He’s not a Russian “Manchurian” candidate. He doesn’t take orders from Moscow, nor is Vlad bankrolling the Donald. There is no conspiracy here. There doesn’t need to be. Their interests and opinions align organically. Trump genuinely likes Putin, and the feeling is mutual.
Still, as Franklin Foer reports in Slate, Putin doesn’t sit back and passively prefer various Western candidates for political office over others. He actively promotes them.
There’s a clear pattern: Putin runs stealth efforts on behalf of politicians who rail against the European Union and want to push away from NATO. He’s been a patron of Golden Dawn in Greece, Ataka in Bulgaria, and Jobbik in Hungary. Joe Biden warned about this effort last year in a speech at the Brookings Institution: “President Putin sees such political forces as useful tools to be manipulated, to create cracks in the European body politic which he can then exploit.” Ruptures that will likely multiply after Brexit—a campaign Russia’s many propaganda organs bombastically promoted.
Donald Trump is like the Kremlin’s favored candidates, only more so. He celebrated the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU. He denounces NATO with feeling. He is also a great admirer of Vladimir Putin. Trump’s devotion to the Russian president has been portrayed as buffoonish enthusiasm for a fellow macho strongman. But Trump’s statements of praise amount to something closer to slavish devotion. In 2007, he praised Putin for “rebuilding Russia.” A year later he added, “He does his work well. Much better than our Bush.” When Putin ripped American exceptionalism in a New York Times op-ed in 2013, Trump called it “a masterpiece.” Despite ample evidence, Trump denies that Putin has assassinated his opponents: “In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that.” In the event that such killings have transpired, they can be forgiven: “At least he’s a leader.” And not just any old head of state: “I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an A.”
The overwhelming majority of conservatives everywhere in America have always been horrified by this sort of thing. Until now, heaping praise on thuggish anti-American dictators has been almost entirely the purview of people who make Bernie Sanders look like George Will—anarchists, flag-burners, useful communist idiots, radical ignorami with their Che T-shirts, Marxist professors and fatheaded celebrities like Sean Penn and Oliver Stone who can’t get enough of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.
There are a few famous exceptions. George W. Bush made a damn fool of himself in 2001 when he said of Putin, “I looked the man in the eye. I found him very straight-forward and trustworthy. I was able to get a sense of his soul.”
“I looked into Putin’s eyes and saw three letters,” Senator John McCain said in response. “K, G, and B.”
That pretty much settled it on the right. The only holdouts are Pat Buchanan and his small claque of far-right dead-enders. “Is Vladimir Putin a paleoconservative?” Buchanan wrote in 2013. “In the culture war for mankind’s future, is he one of us?”
Mitt Romney spoke for the center-right when he (correctly, in my view) slammed President Barack Obama for his refusal to take Putin’s anti-American hostility seriously. “There’s no question but that the president’s naiveté with regards to Russia, and his faulty judgment about Russia’s intentions and objectives, has led to a number of foreign policy challenges that we face,” he said on Face the Nation in 2014.
Compare that statement to what former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said last week when he defended Trump’s dissing of NATO. “I’m not sure I would risk a nuclear war over some place [Estonia] which is the suburbs of St Petersburg.”
Gingrich is a Trump surrogate, not the president, but a crack like that from a government official would constitute a de-facto green light for a Russian invasion of Europe.
Reagan’s ghost would kick Gingrich in the balls, too, if he could.
Estonia is no more a suburb of St. Petersburg than Texas is a “suburb” of Ciudad Juarez, but never mind that. NATO was forged as a Western alliance to protect Europe from Russian aggression at a time when Russia occupied half of Europe. That’s what it’s for. If NATO members won’t protect each other from Russia, of all countries, then it might as well disband now. Alternately, if Estonia is somehow a lesser member of NATO due to its unlucky geography, then we might as well give it the boot.
Gingrich knows all this. Unlike Trump, he’s an intelligent man. (He used to be a history professor.) If Marco Rubio had won the Republican nomination, no doubt Gingrich would be lambasting Hillary Clinton for being too soft on Vladimir, and especially for her embarrassing SmartPower (™) “reset” with Moscow in 2009.
There should be no doubt that if any other Republican candidate won the primary election this year, we wouldn’t be where we are right now, that the Democrats would still be the soft-on-Russia party and the Republicans would still be the hard-nosed realists. Trump won, though, so the two party’s positions have been reversed.
It’s probably safe to say that virtually nobody on the Republican side of the aisle voted for Trump in the primary because of his positions on Russia and NATO. No, the two parties have swapped places, at least for now, because of the whimsical attitudes of a single Republican-in-name-only. But it’s worse than that, really, because the Democratic Party, for all its faults, at least isn’t pro-Russian, nor is it anti-NATO.
What we’re seeing here is basically a covert hostile takeover. The rest of the GOP will need to loudly resist this for as long as it takes or face a serious risk that Trump’s message will become normalized and entrenched—especially if he wins the election. If enough Republicans follow Gingrich’s lead and toe the new party line, they’ll transform themselves for the worse into a party that nobody recognizes.