By this, I don’t mean that Trump eats caviar or hangs out in Moscow nightclubs, although for all I know he’s done both of those things. He is, rather, an oligarch in the Russian style — a rich man who aspires to combine business with politics and has an entirely cynical and instrumental attitude toward both. The Kremlin actively seeks to buy politicians all across Europe. Trump, meanwhile, has explained that he gave money in the past to candidates from both political parties — the majority Democrats — because “I support politicians . . . and that was because of the fact that I am in business.” He has never shown any interest in real policy debates or political ideas, just in whom and what he could buy.
His transition from donor to candidate, although partly motivated by megalomania, has also been designed to shore up his businesses. Just as Russian businessmen use political power to direct money to their own companies, so does Trump. Federal records in June showed that a fifth of his campaign spending was being directed toward his own businesses, ensuring that he makes a profit whatever happens. He has used campaign events to promote Trump products and a campaign visit to Scotland to promote a Trump golf course. Now those around him are hinting that even if he loses, he can turn his mob of angry followers into the foundation of a media company.
As a candidate, Trump has used the same kinds of tactics that Manafort, on behalf of Russian and pro-Russian clients, deployed in Ukraine: pumping up ethnic (in Trump’s case, white ethnic) discontent, playing on public fear and hatred, undermining trust in democracy.