The devil you know vs the devil you don’t…
Trump, on the other hand, appears to be ego-driven and delusional about the immense sway he believes he would have with the Russian leader. To give one particularly apt example, last year Trump argued that Putin would give up “traitor” Edward Snowden and send him back to the US at the click of his fingers: “If I’m president, Putin says hey, boom, you’re gone! I guarantee you that,” he said.
Trump has also walked back his own compliments of Putin and flip-flopped all over the place on Syria. One minute he’s accusing Russia of single-handedly causing the collapse of a recent short-lived ceasefire and complaining that Putin has no respect for the US, and the next he’s cheering on Russia’s actions in Syria, saying that he’d like to join in. Meanwhile, his vice presidential pick Mike Pence stepped out last week to advocate for a Syria policy almost identical to Clinton’s, while insulting Putin as a “small and bullying” leader. Trump has since said he disagrees with Pence on Syria, but it sent more mixed messages nonetheless.
In the past, Trump has also called for sanctions on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine and called for a more forceful US intervention in that country, before again changing his mind and questioning why the US has any business meddling in Ukraine at all, calling any debate over Crimea’s rejoining Russia “Europe’s problem”.
The devil you know or the devil you don’t?
But the Kremlin and its operatives are not stupid. They are well aware that what Trump says on Monday might be entirely at odds with what he says on Tuesday or Wednesday. Putin is unlikely to savor the thought of someone like that controlling US foreign policy. Indeed, there are some who believe Putin would rather deal with Clinton simply because she is the known entity and her policies will be so predictable. Anti-Russia, yes, but not an unpredictable departure from what Moscow has come to expect. Those people would argue that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.