From the Publisher: The Manchurian Candidate

Arnold G. York

Is Donald Trump Putin’s Manchurian candidate?

It may sound a bit like a pilot for a TV show, but before you dismiss the idea out of hand, stay with me while I walk you through it.

The Russian Bear is alive and hungry and prowling the neighborhood of Eastern Europe. Putin has made no secret that he wants his empire back. It started with Georgia and Chechnya, but there is much more recent history. First he went into Crimea with Russian forces — supposedly in support of an indigenous uprising of pro-Russian Ukrainians — and thereafter into eastern Ukraine again, where pro-Russian insurgents had seized the area. Georgia, Chechnya and Ukraine are not NATO countries so we all said “tut tut, very naughty,” but NATO didn’t act. Initially, it was just Russian Special Forces but soon photos came in of Russian tanks and heavy armor pouring into Ukraine. It’s apparently now stalemated, at least for a while, and Putin has also been outspoken about NATO being an anachronism of an earlier time and wanting better relationships with the West, which, in a translation of ‘Putinese’ seems to mean, “Give me back my empire” — which now includes former Russian Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which are all part of NATO and which NATO is committed to defend.

So, when candidate Donald Trump starts mimicking Putin’s language about NATO being obsolete or unnecessary, sort of a latter-day isolationism, and then says, “Maybe we shouldn’t just jump in to defend all NATO nations, particularly if they are in arrears in their club dues,” you can well understand why Putin smiles and many NATO nations shudder. NATO has been the bulwark of the American and European defense against Russian expansion since World War II and America is the 800-pound gorilla in that alliance. If we’re less then enthusiastic, then NATO could collapse.

When Donald Trump talks like he did in the recent New York Times interview, is it just an unscripted Donald being Donald, or just a rookie error (as a Republican leader said), or does it really reflect Trump’s thinking? And is that thinking compromised by his business relationships with Russia and the Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Trump’s relationship with the Russians is long term, over many years beginning in the 1980s, and at times he has been dependent on Russians’ rubles or dollars — at least that’s what his son Donald Jr. said at a real estate conference speech he made in 2008. 

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Jr. said, and “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” In 2008, it was fortuitous for Trump — many banks were no longer lending to him because of bankruptcies.

You could probably dismiss this as Democratic paranoia, except several other things have come together and are unfolding since the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the leaking through WikiLeaks of the 20,000 pages of some very nasty emails just before the start of the Democratic convention. Aside from Trump’s Russian investors, his campaign manager Paul Manafort has also a multiyear history of representing the Russian puppet president of the Ukraine who was kicked out by the Ukranians in 2014. Another of Trump’s foreign policy advisors, Carter Page, has a longtime relationship with the gigantic Russian oil company Gazprom and foreign policy advisor, retired Army Lt. General Michael Flynn, who spoke recently and endlessly at the Republican National Convention earlier had criticized Hillary Clinton, is also is a frequent visitor to Russia and appears on Russian TV Show “Russia Today” as a regular guest. In total, the Trump team is riddled with people who have made a great deal of money working for or representing Russian interests.

The most recent event was in the Republican Platform Committee, where the wording of the party platform about Ukraine was changed at the behest of the Trump team from “increasing aid for Ukraine” and providing “lethal defensive weapons to the Ukrainian military” to some more watered down and innocuous language. 

In 2012, Mitt Romney warned of Russian aggressive intentions and many of us wrote that off as campaigning. In 2014, Russia moved into Ukraine and we have to concede that Romney was a lot more prescient than many of the rest of us about the Russian threat. The questions about Trump’s Russia connections are there and real, and I suspect they are not going to go away. He’s going to have to open up about his business relationships with the Russians, Russian investors, the oligarchs and Putin’s team or we are all going to begin to believe that some of Trump’s Russian policy is being shaped in Moscow.