The universal headline summary of Donald Trump's prepared foreign-policy speech yesterday was that it lacked details. Trump's campaign encouraged this conclusion by leaking in advance that it would contain few specifics, and media correctly primed to think of Trump as an ignorant blowhard covered it as such. But the speech, in fact, contained an important and somewhat-curious idea: The United States should form a closer relationship, even an alliance, with Russia.
The first sign of trouble came late last year. Donald Trump, during an MSNBC interview, was asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin's habit of launching invasions and targeting critics. "He's running his country, and at least he's a leader," Trump replied, "unlike what we have in this country."
Reminded that Putin is accused of ordering the murder of journalists, Trump effectively said he doesn't actually believe the accusations and ultimately doesn't much care. "Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also," the Republican frontrunner said in December.
John Kasich's campaign soon after launched a Trump-Putin 2016 website, complete with the tagline, "Make Tyranny Great Again."
This week, New York's Jon Chait noticed that Trump's widely derided foreign-policy speech included an under-appreciated message about a possible friendly shift in Putin's direction.
If you missed the speech, the transcript bolsters the point. Trump believes, if elected, he will be able to ease "tensions" between Russia and the United States, "improve relations," and end "this horrible cycle of hostility." While the GOP candidate talked about all of the things he expects countries like China and Mexico to do to make a Trump administration happy, he made no comparable demands of Russia or its leaders.
Indeed, even while talking about "tensions" and "hostility" between Russia and the United States, Trump made no effort to even hint at who's ultimately responsible for the diplomatic strains.
Chait's piece added, "Franklin Foer has a long and fascinating report for Slate on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager (and long-standing confidant) who has also worked to undermine Putin’s enemies in Ukraine. And, as Michael Crowley details in Politico magazine, Russia Today, the Kremlin propaganda organ, routinely lionizes Trump."
As we've discussed several times, the Republican Party has an active pro-Putin wing, and as it turns out, Donald Trump appears eager to give voice to this contingent. Whether a mainstream, general-election audience finds this compelling remains to be seen, but I'm skeptical this will help the likely GOP nominee.