Trump and Putin: ‘Bromance’ or blackmail?
The allegation that Russia has blackmail evidence of some kind on Donald Trump may have once seemed far-fetched, said Aaron Blake in WashingtonPost.com. But Trump’s strange deference to Russian President Vladimir Putin, on grotesque display last week in Helsinki, has suddenly moved that possibility “to the forefront.” Trump has never hidden his admiration for autocrats, of course, and his refusal to scold Putin for Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election probably reflects Trump’s own insecurity about his election victory. But still. The sight of a submissive Trump fawning over and practically bowing to a hostile foreign leader was so “counter to Trump’s brand” as a tough-talking “America First” nationalist that it calls for a deeper explanation. I used to doubt that Putin had anything on Trump, said Blake Hounshell in Politico.com, but after Helsinki, “I’m no longer a Russiagate skeptic.” Neither his fragile ego nor his autocrat fetish explains why Trump consistently adopts a pro-Putin line, and even “parrots Russian talking points on NATO,” despite “great political cost to himself.” Unsettling as it is to contemplate, it now seems highly likely that, “as the Donald himself might say, ‘there’s something going on.’”
The use of compromising material, or kompromat, is “pervasive” in Russian society, said Adam Davidson in NewYorker.com. Trump has been traveling to Moscow since 1987, including a much-discussed 2013 trip, and even if the American businessman wasn’t on Putin’s radar before he became president—as Putin coyly claimed last week—Trump’s “partners and their rivals” would have collected kompromat on him for “business leverage.” The Kremlin may well now have that information, which could be “proof of an embarrassing sex act” with prostitutes or financial crimes, such as shady loans to Trump’s businesses or money laundering. Putin helped Trump win the election, said Julia Ioffe in GQ.com. “That’s the kompromat.” Only Trump’s rabid supporters still refuse to accept the documented fact that the Kremlin aggressively interfered to help Trump in an election he won by a razor-thin margin of 77,000 votes over three key states. Putin can puncture that bubble of denial whenever he wants, and Trump knows it.
The president’s reluctance to admit Russian meddling may be fueling these blackmail rumors, said Byron York in WashingtonExaminer.com. But that doesn’t mean they’re true. More likely, Trump thinks that if he “gives an inch” on Russian meddling, his enemies will use it to attack his legitimacy. That could be a political miscalculation, but it’s consistent with Trump’s combative approach to life in general, in which you never admit error or cede ground to adversaries.
Why are we “searching for some Rosetta stone” to explain Trump’s fondness for Putin? said Andrew Sullivan in NYMag.com. Trump openly envies and covets the authoritarian Putin’s “very strong control” over Russia. We know he shares Putin’s “amoral and cynical vision of world politics”—a brutal, nationalistic free-for-all “in which the most powerful are free to bully the others.” Trump has made it clear he hopes to partner with Putin in a “strongman alliance” based on narrow self-interest, in which democracy, human rights, immigration, and international alliances like NATO and the EU will be thrown in the trash can of history. Is it possible that Putin has dirt on Trump? Of course. But the simplest explanation for why our president has “such a soft spot” for the kleptocratic Russian autocrat is that they “see the world in just the same way.” ■