Donald Trump has a history of praising Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the recent past Trump has complimented Putin as a strong leader, defended Putin against allegations he has ordered the killings of journalists and political opponents, called Putin a “highly respected” world leader, shared words of mutual admiration, denied Russia had invaded Ukraine before being corrected, called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails and said he and Putin would get along. Each of these comments has alienated Trump from fellow Republicans and the American electorate. Yet this criticism has not deterred Trump from continuing his praise. Until now.
“I don’t love (Putin), I don’t hate. We’ll see how it works. We’ll see. Maybe we’ll have a good relationship. Maybe we’ll have a horrible relationship. Maybe we’ll have a relationship right in the middle.”
To provide some context for Trump’s long-standing admiration of Vladimir Putin now followed by political vacillation, since the beginning of Putin’s presidency in 2012 the state of Russia has worsened.
Russia is classified as an “open anocracy“, a government regime featuring inherent qualities of political instability and ineffectiveness, as well as an incoherent mix of democratic and autocratic traits and practices. Freedom House classifies Russia as “Not Free“, meaning Russian citizens do not possess freedom in their political rights or civil liberties. Russia’s GDP has plummeted and GDP per capita has fallen by almost 4%. This decline is partially due to international sanctions imposed on Russia following the annexation of Crimea and military intervention in eastern Ukraine. Despite these domestic difficulties President Putin has been able to retain control over Russia due to his cult of personality, murders of opposition politicians and uncooperative journalists as well as his management of mass protests through deadly force. He has also vehemently opposed the incursion of foreign interests into Russian politics by refusing to attend international summits. And this week Russia has unilaterally suspended or ended three nuclear agreements with the United States.
Public opinion of Russia and Vladimir Putin around the world and in the United States is largely unfavorable. Although some do view Putin favorably. Once Donald Trump seemed to realize that his Russian rhetoric was hurting him and his electoral odds began to decrease significantly he decided to change his mind.
Politicians are allowed to change their minds and their policy positions given more information and new developments. But the only new information Donald Trump gained was his sinking chances of election. This is what electoral desperation looks like.