No, I don’t think that Trump is actually running on a ticket with Vladimir Putin. It’s just that sometimes, you just can’t tell for sure. Throughout 2015, the conventional wisdom was that, at some point, as the primaries approached, Republican voters would wake up from their flirtation with Donald Trump and realize that Trump is not a Republican, that he supports almost none of the traditional positions that the Republican Party has taken for the past fifty years.
Nowhere is Trump’s lack of respect for issues and principles clearer than when he stumbles into foreign policy. The only discernable principle that Trump has demonstrated so far when it comes to foreign policy is some variation on mercantilism — that the only foreign policy interest that the U.S. has is what’s good for U.S. business, primarily what’s good for the Trump Organization.
The past week has seen several examples of this approach. On NATO, forget the fact that the security guarantees that the U.S. has given eliminates any need for Germany, Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, etc., to develop their own nuclear weapons (and all could within months). What matters is how much everyone is paying, as if the U.S. Army was 21st century mercenaries fighting on behalf of the highest bidder.
Today, after evidence that Russia was behind the hack on the DNC and is actively interfering in U.S. politics, Trump makes a statement that is (at best) ambivalent, and (at worst) encouragement for Russia to keep going. While it’s a dirty secret of international diplomacy and espionage that everybody tries to influence what is going on in other countries (even our allies), the normal response when your country is being targeted is to demand that it stop.
At the same time, when asked about the Crimea, Trump’s response was that he had to think about his position on Russia’s annexation of the Ukraine. Later, Trump indicated that he thought that, under a Trump Administration, there was no reason why the U.S. and Russia couldn’t be on friendlier terms. Now, I don’t think any U.S. Administration is going to be in a position to force Russia to give back the Ukraine. However, part of our agreement with the Ukraine when they agreed to give up the nuclear weapons that fell into their hands when the Soviet Union collapsed was that we would help guarantee the security of the Ukraine. Saying that those arrangements are something that a Trump Administration needs to think about is astonishing.
While saying that he did not know why we couldn’t be on friendlier terms with Russia, Trump also (contrary to earlier claims that he knew Putin and could get along with him) denied really knowing much about Putin. Which ultimately is the problem. It is one thing for a U.S. presidential candidate to have no clue about who is running Angola or East Timor. It is another thing to be clueless about the big players like Russia and China. There are good reasons why we have problems with Russia. On almost every major international problem, Russia is opposing our position (and vice versa).
The fact that Trump is blissfully ignorant of these issues means that nobody has any idea what a Trump foreign policy would look like. (The same can be said of a lot of Trump’s flip-flopping domestic agenda.) At least a lot of the Republican foreign policy leadership has stood up and said that Trump is too risky for them to take and that they will be voting for Hillary. Among the rank and file, the question for the next three months is whether Republican voters actually support the traditional Republican foreign policy or whether the only philosophy that the Republican Party stands for is to stop the Democrats, no matter the cost.