Donald Trump is like the Kremlin’s favored candidates, only more so. He celebrated the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU. He denounces NATO with feeling. He is also a great admirer of Vladimir Putin. Trump’s devotion to the Russian president has been portrayed as buffoonish enthusiasm for a fellow macho strongman. But Trump’s statements of praise amount to something closer to slavish devotion. In 2007, he praised Putin for “rebuilding Russia.” A year later he added, “He does his work well. Much better than our Bush.” When Putin ripped American exceptionalism in a New York Times op-ed in 2013, Trump called it “a masterpiece.” Despite ample evidence, Trump denies that Putin has assassinated his opponents, “In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that.” In the event that such killings have transpired, they can be forgiven: “At least he’s a leader.” And not just any old head of state: “I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an A.”
That’s a highly abridged sampling of Trump’s odes to Putin. Why wouldn’t the Russians offer him the same furtive assistance they’ve lavished on Le Pen, Berlusconi, and the rest? Indeed, according to Politico’s Michael Crowley, Russian propaganda has gone full throttle for Trump, using its Russia Today apparatus to thrash Hillary Clinton and hail the courage of Trump’s foreign policy. (Sample headline: “Trump Sparks NATO Debate: ‘Obsolete’ or ‘Tripwire That Could Lead to World War III.’ ”) Russian intelligence services hacked the Democratic National Committee’s servers, purloining its opposition research files on Trump and just about everything else it could find. They also wormed their way into the computers of the Clinton Foundation, a breach reported by Bloomberg. And though it may be a mere coincidence, Trump’s inner circle is populated with advisers and operatives who have long careers advancing the interests of the Kremlin.
We shouldn’t overstate Putin’s efforts, which will hardly determine the outcome of the election. Still, we should think of the Trump campaign as the moral equivalent of Henry Wallace’s communist-infiltrated campaign for president in 1948, albeit less sincere and idealistic than that. A foreign power that wishes ill upon the United States has attached itself to a major presidential campaign.