Monday, April 17, 2017

Trump Is Trying To Distance Himself From Russia

The charts above show an interesting perception. While the overwhelming majority of Americans consider Russia to be more an enemy than a friend, the public doesn't think Trump has that same view. In fact, about 40% say Trump views Russia as a friend while only 35% thinks he views Russia as an enemy.

There's good reason for that perception. During the campaign, Trump expressed his admiration for Vladimir Putin as a person and as a leader. He also disparaged NATO, saying it was obsolete. And of course, many Trump aides met with Russian officials during the campaign (perhaps even making promises in exchange for Russian interference in the U.S. presidential campaign).

This has many Americans doubting whether Trump can be an effective leader in foreign policy matters. Many think that he is now a pawn of the Russians, or at least has been played for a fool by the Russians.

Recent events show that Trump may finally be beginning to understand how this perceived connection to Russia is hurting his image. And recent actions have shown he is now trying to distance himself from Russia.

First was his missile attack on the Syrian air base. This was little more than a publicity stunt, since the Russians and Syrians were warned in time to move their planes to safety and the runway was untouched in the attack (and both Russian and Syrian planes were using the base the very next day). But Trump hoped it would give the impression that he was willing to act against Russian interests.

Then Trump changed his tune about NATO, saying it was no longer obsolete (even though NATO is acting exactly like it had been under the Obama administration). Again, it was designed to show Trump could oppose Russian interests.

Finally, Trump made the public comment that Russian-American relations were at a very low point.

None of these things actually represents a substantive change, and all are designed to make Trump appear strong and independent of Russia. I'm not buying it. I think too many promises were made during the campaign, and Trump still considers Putin his kind of leader (the type of leader he wants to be). To believe Trump is truly independent of Russia, I need to see more than a fake attack and some rather ineffectual statements.

The charts above were made from information in a new Economist / YouGov Poll -- done on April 10th and 11th of a national sample of 1,500 adults (including 1,330 registered voters), with a 3.2 point margin of error.

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