Donald Trump is practically alone in mainstream American politics in his consistent praise of Vladimir Putin and insistence that the United States would benefit from warmer relations with Russia. But that inclination to view Putin more as ally than adversary places Trump squarely in line with the racially infused, conservative-populist movements gaining ground in both America and Europe.
And that means the intra-GOP friction over Russia between Trump and more traditional foreign-policy thinkers like Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina points toward a much larger debate over the priorities that should drive American foreign policy.
Across the political spectrum, mainstream foreign-policy thinkers in both the United States and Europe view Putin as a threat largely because he is pushing to expand Russian influence across eastern Europe and the Middle East in ways that could destabilize the U.S.-led system of alliances and global rules that has defined the international order since World War II. That concern has spiked amid a succession of provocative actions from Putin, ranging from his 2014 incursion into Ukraine and brutal military campaign against anti-government rebels in Syria, to the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia hacked Democratic Party email accounts to influence the 2016 American presidential election. (Trump, due to receive an intelligence briefing about those conclusions on Friday, has steadfastly resisted and belittled that conclusion.)