There are a number of interesting similarities between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, not just in their style of managing, but also in the conditions that led to their eventual rise to political prominence. But the differences may be more interesting.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Fredericksburg, Va., Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016. Photo: AP
In light of the upcoming presidential election in the U.S. and all of the suspicion surrounding U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s alleged connection to the Kremlin, it is becoming particularly interesting to imagine how successful the potential tandem - Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump - might actually be.
Often, the media depicts Putin and Trump as quite similar in terms of their political images, personalities and political strategies. However, the reality might be far different from what is pushed by journalists.
Putin and Trump both definitely have charismatic personalities. Moreover, they are pragmatic, down-to-earth business people prepared to make deals to achieve their ends.
They both do not hesitate to make strong statements (despite the fact that the public may find these statements insulting and outrageous). In reality, Putin and Trump just speak aloud things that most leaders would never dare to say.
Putin was elected to his first term of presidency in the middle of the economic crisis less than 10 years after the fall of the Soviet Union. He came to power amidst signs of real crisis in the new Russia.
In the same way, Trump is a political phenomenon, a product of his time. He is someone who could never have become a political leader when there wasn’t a sense that a deep crisis was brewing in America. As the saying goes, “radical times require radical measures.” So the American electorate wants change, and is ready to vote for an anti-establishment candidate.
For the U.S. public, Trump represents a significant change and also a great risk. Even though many Democrats imply that all Trump wants is the wall with Mexico and a renegotiation of trade deals, their worst expectations are that he will endanger the global economy.
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Some political experts have called him “the most insecure person in the country with the greatest ego in the world.”
The key question is: Will Trump be able to make the right decisions coming into the presidential office with crises in almost every area of the economy and politics? Trump himself appears confident that he can.
U.S. voters’ opinions are polarized – one part of society is confident that Trump is a disaster, and another that he is the right guy for the job.
Both Putin and Trump in their media communication strategies appeal to their nations’ great patriotic pasts. Trump is promising to “make America great again,” while Putin is attempting to recreate the power of the Soviet Union.
Both are strong nationalists, often using the motivating fear for “security” to engage with their audience, promising to build a stronger America and Russia, respectively. By expressing the unspoken thoughts of the average citizen and speaking in understandable simple language, using strong images, they appeal to the core audience of their nation.
They both are strongly supported by poorly educated and underemployed socio-economic groups. Putin’s electorate is in Russia’s rural regions and Trump’s is concentrated in America’s Midwest.
Both Putin and Trump lack the traditional qualifications for politics, without much political experience at the beginning of their careers: Putin is a former KGB agent, while Trump is a businessman.
What makes Putin and Trump different?
Compared to Trump, Putin is a better strategist. He makes no PR mistakes, as he is an outstanding “political chess” player. Putin avoids making bold statements that would get him in trouble.
While Trump has been called “thin-skinned,” and is described as having a touchy personality, he seems dependent on other people’s opinions. He has a narcissistic personality. He wants to attract admiration and be liked by everyone. He seems to appear always ready to make another crazy statement just to get attention.
Exactly because of this weakness, Trump can be easily manipulated and provoked. Many fear that given his hot temper, he might make impulsive and costly mistakes.
In contrast, Putin is independent, and does not try to be nice; while he can be a charming communicator, he does not really appear to care what people think of him.
Another difference between Putin and Trump is that the former was a complete unknown before coming to power, while Trump is a popular businessman with an established image, which he has exploited to get 10 million followers on Twitter. Putin, on the other hand, does not use Twitter and does not seem as social as Trump. He is an offline politician, and does not trust using the Internet.
In 2015, when meeting with Yandex [Yandex is a Russian multinational technology company specializing in Internet-related services and products that operates the largest search engine in Russia – Editor’s note] in Russia, Putin called the Internet a “project of CIA.”
The Russian president has not liked to use the Internet since his first online press conference in 2001, when he received a number of strange questions from online users that he did not like.
According to the Russian Federal agency of Government Communication and Information, during that online conference in 2001, Putin’s website experienced around 30 hacker attacks, 50 percent of which were from abroad.
Trump’s pro-Russia comments
Questions about Trump’s connection with Russia and the Kremlin started to appear a long time ago. Especially after the recent scandal surrounding hacker attacks on the Democratic National Committee email servers, which were attributed to Russian hacker groups close to the Russian government (according to U.S. cybersecurity agencies).
While Trump keeps saying that public accusations regarding his connection to Russia are just a joke, some political analysts believe that these accusations of Trump’s friendship with the Kremlin may be playing in favor of U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Following shortly after the hacker attack, Trump’s appeal to Russia to help find Clinton’s emails added even more heat to this issue. “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” tweeted Trump.
If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton's 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 27, 2016
This caused an unprecedented reaction from the U.S. media: Many foreign policy experts accused Trump of inciting espionage, and the Google search engine registered a record number of search requests for “treasonable conduct.”
Long before the U.S. media started to call Trump “a Siberian candidate” and a Kremlin agent recruited by Putin, the Republican candidate himself had stated: “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment,” “The Russian market is attractive to me,” and “We will be in Moscow at some point.”
Later, more than once, Trump and Putin have exchanged their sympathies for each other. Putin endorsed Trump and called him a “brilliant and talented leader, and without doubt the most successful candidate in line to be the next U.S. President,” and Trump in response admired Putin’s “strong leadership.”
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Many minds today are concerned with how Putin and Trump will get along together if the latter is elected. Some experts in the U.S. and Russia suggest that Putin and Trump will get along together much better than Putin and Clinton would as they would just approach politics as making business deals. That can certainly contribute to a more pragmatic approach to each other.
Whether Trump’s business interests, in combination with his political naiveté, will let him reset U.S.-Russia relations by reopening negotiations, both countries will learn this November if he’s actually elected president.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.