Jacob Heilbrunn

The simple explanation for Donald Trump’s pro-Putin twaddle

The simple explanation for Donald Trump’s pro-Putin twaddle
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Once upon a time Republicans routinely accused Democrats of being soft on Russia. Irving Kristol, writing in Commentary in 1952, famously allowed that Joseph McCarthy was a 'vulgar demagogue' but emphasised that 'there is one thing that the American people know about Senator McCarthy: he, like them, is unequivocally anti-Communist. About the spokesmen for American liberalism, they feel they know no such thing.' It seems likely that the grand old man of neoconservatism might well rub his eyes in disbelief were he to observe the ideological somersault that has taken place in the 2016 presidential race.

Hillary Clinton, whose myrmidons hope that bashing Moscow will deflect attention from her fresh round of Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner-inspired FBI email woes, is preening herself on her tough stance toward Vladimir Putin, while Donald Trump, who never misses a chance to extol the Russian president, stands accused of being in cahoots with the Kremlin. Events are moving swiftly. On Monday, Senate minority leader Harry Reid, declared that FBI director James Comey is sitting on 'explosive information' about Trump’s servility to the Kremlin. Next Franklin Foer, writing in Slate, alleged that the Trump organisation operated a secret server to communicate directly with the Russian Alfa bank—an allegation promptly seconded by top Clinton foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan. NBC is reporting that the FBI is conducting a 'preliminary inquiry' into Trump’s former campaign manager’s foreign business connections. Manafort says it’s all 'Democratic propaganda'. For good measure, the muckraking journal Mother Jones reports that a 'veteran spy' told the FBI that Moscow has sought to cultivate Trump as an asset for several years.

All of this sounds nefarious. But couldn’t there be a simpler explanation for Trump’s pro-Putin twaddle, which is that he actually believes it? The orgulous Trump seems to have convinced himself that Putin branded him some kind of genius when he actually referred to him as 'colourful'. What’s more, as David Bromwich observes in the November 10 New York Review of Books, 'Trump seems to admire Putin as he admires other executives, in business and politics alike, who have proved themselves by building up their success with a flamboyant disregard of rules. We know little more than that'. There is a long history of American capitalists, from Julius and Armand Hammer to Cyrus S. Eaton, who enjoyed intimate relations with the Kremlin, never allowing moral scruples to get in the way of business. Trump fits right into that mould. Indeed, his latest move is to stiff his own pollster of the three-quarters of a million dollars that he owes him.

If there is a true mole in the presidential campaign, it appears to be the Democratic National Committee interim chairman and CNN political analyst Donna Brazile. Brazile has now formally resigned her television post after WikiLeaks revealed that she divulged upcoming town hall candidate questions to her chums on the Clinton campaign. They came from Brazile, not Russia, with love.