Not a single stand has done more justice to Donald Trump's presidency than his stance on Russia.
During the presidential election campaign, he praised Vladimir Putin conspicuously and declined to condemn his seizure of Crimea. Trump also publicly demanded that Russia release hacked emails from Hillary Clinton, which his aides called a joke. Trump's alleged weakness for Putin seems to have encouraged advisors such as George Papadopoulos and perhaps also Michael Flynn to give the Kremlin an account of whether Trump intended it or not.
Trump's obvious Russophilia has hounded him in office. His refusal to recognize Russia's interference in the election and his eagerness to stifle or end any investigation that touches her have, directly or indirectly, brought with them tremendous legal and political danger. Polls show support for Special Envoy Robert Mueller, concerns that Trump is obstructing the judiciary, and concerns that the president does not take Russia seriously enough. Russia is hardly the president's only problem, but it is the largest and most diverse. No matter what Trump does for the rest of his term, he will not be able to undo the damage to his strange attitude towards Russia.
This is one reason why the recent events in the Trump-Russia relationship are so strange: all signs indicate that the President has taken a tougher stance on the Kremlin. The most important example of this is the hard line that the White House in London took against the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter. Not only did the Trump government join forces with nearly 30 other countries that expelled Russian officials, but also the reaction of the 60 reactionaries of the US reaction or spies, and a consulate that closed the gates made every other nation into the Shadow. Meanwhile, Russia's new ambassador to the US has seen doors slam in his face as he tries to settle in Washington. Unlike his predecessor Sergey Kislyak, who managed to get an Oval Office meeting with the Russian foreign minister, in which Trump called recently released FBI director James Comey a "nut job" and revealed classified information.
Last week, when Trump abruptly pushed out National Security Advisor HR McMaster in favor of John Bolton. Many observers noted that while Bolton was in line with Trump's rhetorical style, it did split off on key issues, especially in Russia. But what if that was not a mistake or a compromise, and the attitude was another fraction of Trump's against the Kremlin?
The White House protested for a long time that it was much harder for Russia than it would receive for loans. This argument has some truth, albeit mainly if you separate the President from the entertainment. Other top officials, in particular UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, have put Putin to a hard line. It's rather Trump's own rhetoric, as well as his press secretary, who is strangely respectful. Despite the recent turn, Trump found time to congratulate Putin on his electoral victory, at the express advice of his adjutants.
The peculiarity of the apparent change of the heart is the motivation. When Russia interfered in American affairs, Trump tried to ignore history, refused to blame Russia, tried to convict other guilty parties, and condemned the waters. But when Russia (definitely) poisoned a Russian citizen on British soil, the President publicly acknowledged this and took decisive action.
Trump's critics tended to interpret his reluctance against Russia as self-incriminating evidence of collusion with the Soviet Union The Kremlin during the 2016 election campaign – or, among the more conspiratorial ones, as evidence that Putin possesses compromising material about the president – but the fact and circumstances of his recent conversion, despite little political advantage, complicate the picture. It has long been clear that Trump is so grumpy about Russian interference in the election because he believes that such stories delegitimize his victory. His willingness to strike back at an unrelated provocation shows how much this sensitivity could explain his approach.
As I mentioned earlier, the issue of collusion is no longer whether Trump officials had unfavorable contacts with Russians-two have already pleaded guilty to meeting with FBI Russians for reasons that are not very clear cover up, but the extent of collusion, and whether Trump himself was involved. So far, there is no public evidence that the president himself was involved. A recent CNN report stating that Mueller aggressively prosecuted ex-Trump adviser Rick Gates for wanting Gates to talk about collusion seems to indicate that Mueller has not found any concrete evidence to link Trump. In the absence of evidence co-authored by Trump, the simplest explanation for the president's actions is that he hysterically responds mainly to stories that question his choice.
Consider McMaster, who Trump did not upset a tough position against Russia per se (eventually he was replaced by the even tougher Bolton line), but by claiming that evidence of Russian interference in the election in particular, are irrefutable.
NBC News and The Washington Post on Friday have both stories that go into the White House's decision-making process about the expulsions. NBC's article has two particularly interesting details. One is that Trump was reportedly upset by Putin, who claimed to have powerful new nuclear weapons. It's tempting to see this as a sort of phallic showdown or clash between two performatively male leaders, but Trump has not responded similarly on other occasions when Putin mocked the US and Trump himself, so it's hard to know why This time is different.
The second is that although Trump has sometimes signed measures to punish Russia, he was reluctantly seen as doing so. In August, for example, Trump finally joined a plan to arm Ukraine:
But when the president finally approved the important policy change, he told his staff not to announce his decision in public, officials said. Trump argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin could agitate, according to official officials.
"He does not want us to raise it," said a White House official. "It's not something he wants to talk about."
This restraint is mystifying. On the one hand, it does not fit with the theory that Trump is Putin's pledge, as it is a material blow against Russia; On the other hand, Trump, if he does not care less, robs Trump's arguments to refute that he is a farmer of Putin.
Trump's fear of delegitimization does not explain why Trump was so kind to Putin before the election, but there are other plausible reasons for it. Trump clearly respected strongmen and was surrounded by election advisers like Rudy Giuliani, who had publicly revered Putin. In addition, everything indicates that Trump will not win the election, but has a long-term interest in doing business in Russia. The campaign provided Trump with a month-long opportunity to recover in the Kremlin to prepare for what he expected to return to the real estate business.
Trump is not mistaken in believing that Russia's history partially delegitimizes his election. It is probably impossible to quantify the effect of extraneous interference, and this alone does not explain the result. Each election is the result of several factors, and in 2016, Hillary Clinton's strategic decisions about where to launch her campaign and Comey's decision to publicly open the case in late October directly quantifiable the outcome. However, there is substantial evidence that Russian efforts should help Trump.
The president can not erase that by pretending he does not exist, but he keeps trying. That might explain why Trump is ready to punish Russia for what it does in London, but any mention of the election quickly provokes feverish tweets about democratic hoaxes.