Basically the question is is Trump really as insolent as he appears or is that just for show?
I wrote last August about what I felt was an overly optimistic assumption that Trump and Putin would be great working partners if Trump were to become president.
This idea has been promoted primarily by Trump himself who thinks the pair would get along very well. He is the only candidate who has shown any level of respect to Russia and Putin and his comments have been used by the media to draw negative comparisons between the two men. I personally think the comparisons, for the most part, are inaccurate.
When Putin responded to all of this, he complimented Trump, calling him the “absolute frontrunner” and said he welcomed any effort by any candidate to improve relations between the two countries. Putin’s comments were used by the media to confirm that the two were in fact kindred spirits. Even then, I still felt the whole thing had been blown out of proportion.
I imagine Putin’s reaction would have been similar to any American candidate who expressed a desire to improve relations and who was willing to treat Russia as a partner, not an irritant to be contained. In true sensationalist fashion, much of the media went so far as to take Putin’s comments as an “endorsement” of Trump, which obviously it was not.
Too much being made of Putin's comments on Trump. He didn't "endorse" him. He spoke diplomatically. Hardly going to do anything else.— Danielle Ryan (@DanielleRyanJ)December 19, 2015
The reasons I gave in my piece about having doubts over the Trump/Putin relationship are still relevant.
Here’s a quick summary of what I wrote:
- A year before Trump decided he wanted to be friends with Putin he said the US should “definitely do sanctions” and “show some strength” to Putin
While Trump today might be asking why the US is “leading the charge” in Ukraine, it was just a year ago that he was going on television to chide Obama for not doing enough to stand up to Putin, even arguing for economic sanctions to be put in place.
- Asked whether sanctions on Russia could be removed, Trump said it would depend on whether Russia could “behave”.
- Asked about NATO membership for Ukraine, Trump said he “wouldn’t care” if the country joined (or didn’t join), which I wrote “betrays [his] lack of understanding of the elements and roots of the crisis in that country” and the fact that NATO membership for Ukraine is a red line for Moscow.
- He told an audience of supporters that the US-Russia relationship would be one where “we [the US] have the strength”.
- Asked what to do about Edward Snowden, Trump said he could “guarantee” Putin would send him packing if he became president.
This last point about Snowden may simply be macho talk that Trump knows will never come to anything, but with Trump it can be hard to know where his arrogance will end and where his common sense will kick in — or if it will at all. We haven’t had the opportunity to find out.
The media has largely gone for the ‘Trump and Putin are soulmates’ narrative, because they enjoy drawing similarities between two personalities that they hate.
They have decided that Trump’s comments about improving relations between the countries are irresponsible and ridiculous, when in fact they are entirely sensible.
This, of course, is not reason enough to vote for Trump, but it would be great if other candidates took his comments on board instead of trying to one-up each other in how anti-Putin they can be.
If the points I made above about Trump’s earlier comments on Russia seem strange in comparison to his rhetoric today, it may be that he has simply changed his mind or evolved on the issue — or it may be that he is a notorious flip-flopper who doesn’t change his mind for genuine, sincere reasons, but because he says whatever he thinks will get him the biggest cheer at any given moment.
One concern I expressed in my piece on this last year was this:
Trump is a man who is used to getting his own way, through wheeling and dealing and always being one of the richest guys in the room. But geopolitics doesn’t work like a reality TV show and if he doesn’t get what he wants from Putin, things could turn even more sour fairly quickly.
If somehow Trump did manage to win (and strangely enough, that is not looking entirely impossible now) the success of his relationship with Putin would be somewhat dependent on whether he could accept that he’s not always going to “boom!” get what he wants.
What I didn’t mention — and should have — in my original piece on this was that Trump may have far more sense than he reveals. I would at least hope and assume he does. A person doesn’t usually become as rich and successful as he has by being totally stupid.
If we assume that most of what he says is for show, it’s therefore entirely possible that yes, he could develop a mutually respectful working relationship with Putin. If on the other hand, he really is as arrogant and delusional as he sounds, then he might be in for a shock.