One of Russia’s leading opposition activists Wednesday decried the rise of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as the United States’ own version of “Putinism,” saying the New York real estate mogul’s election would be the “best hope” for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his dictatorial regime.
Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion and democratic political activist, said he’s committed to “preventing the rise of Putinism, whether it is in Russia or this country.”
“I wish it would be a joke,” he told the Aspen Institute during a Washington forum. “It is not. What we are seeing in this election cycle is it’s an attack on the American way of life and democracy.”
Kasparov said he sees an assault on American ideals coming from both ends of the political spectrum.
“The fact is that in both parties you have very powerful trends that are pushing it to the opposite sides, sort of creating not a consensus but a conflicting field. It worries me. Economically, [it is] from [Bernie] Sanders’ supporters, you know, reviving the socialism,” he said of the Vermont senator’s surprisingly successful insurgent campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“As someone raised in a communist country, it is anathema,” Kasparov said. “People seem to forget what socialism was. They don’t seem to realize that the luxury of talking about socialism was paid for by capitalism.”
“On the other side,” he continued, “you have, of course, the rise of Donald Trump,” who has made admiring statements about the Russian leader. “That is an attack on liberty.”
Trump’s so-called “America First” foreign policy, in Kasparov’s view, would be a disaster and only embolden Putin.
“Putin’s biggest hope? Donald Trump,” Kasparov said. “This is the way to weaken American democracy and the trans-Atlantic relations.”
Kasparov, who lives in New York, was in Washington to discuss his new book, “Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must be Stopped.”
He said the world desperately needs the kind of American leadership that was provided from both major political parties during the Cold War.
“Recently I watched again this Kennedy-Nixon debate, in 1960, when candidates could disagree on means but they could agree on goals,” Kasparov said. “Now, I am afraid we will be entering a very different kind of debate where substance will be totally trumped.”
"Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, / As, to be hated, needs but to be seen,” the poet Alexander Pope wrote, in lines that were once, as they said back in the day, imprinted on the mind of every schoolboy.
Pope continued, “Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, / we first endure, then pity, then embrace.”
The three-part process by which the gross becomes the taken for granted has been on matchlessly grim view this past week in the ascent ofDonald Trump. First merely endured by those in the Republican Party, with pained grimaces and faint bleats of reluctance, bare toleration passed quickly over into blind, partisan allegiance—he’s going to be the nominee, after all, and so is our boy. Then a weird kind of pity arose, directed not so much at him (he supplies his own self-pity) as at his supporters, on the premise that their existence somehow makes him a champion for the dispossessed, although the evidence indicates that his followers are mostly stirred by familiar racial and cultural resentments, of which Trump has been a single-minded spokesperson.
Now for the embrace. One by one, people who had not merely resisted him before but called him by his proper name—who, until a month ago, were determined to oppose a man they rightly described as a con artist and a pathological liar—are suddenly getting on board. Columnists and magazines that a month ago were saying #NeverTrump are now vibrating with the frisson of his audacity, fawning over him or at least thrilling to his rising poll numbers and telling one another, “We can control him.’
No, you can’t. One can argue about whether to call him a fascist or an authoritarian populist or a grotesque joke made in a nightmare shared between Philip K. Dick and Tom Wolfe, but under any label Trump is a declared enemy of the liberal constitutional order of the United States—the order that has made it, in fact, the great and plural country that it already is. He announces his enmity to America by word and action every day. It is articulated in his insistence on the rightness of torture and the acceptable murder of noncombatants. It is self-evident in the threats he makes daily to destroy his political enemies, made only worse by the frivolity and transience of the tone of those threats. He makes his enmity to American values clear when he suggests that the Presidency holds absolute power, through which he will be able to end opposition—whether by questioning the ownership of newspapers or talking about changing libel laws or threatening to take away F.C.C. licenses. To say “Well, he would not really have the power to accomplish that” is to misunderstand the nature of thin-skinned authoritarians in power. They do not arrive in office and discover, as constitutionalists do, that their capabilities are more limited than they imagined. They arrive, and then make their power as large as they can.
And Trump announces his enmity in the choice of his companions. The Murdoch media conglomerate has been ordered to acquiesce; it’s no surprise that it has. But Trump’s other fellow-travellers include Roger Stone, the Republican political operative and dirty-tricks maven, while his venues have included the broadcasts of Alex Jones, a ranting conspiracy theorist who believes in a Globalist plot wherein “an alien force not of this world is attacking humanity”—not to mention Jones’s marketing of the theory that Michelle Obama is a transvestite who murdered Joan Rivers. These are not harmless oddballs Trump is flirting with. This is not the lunatic fringe. These are the lunatics.
Ted Cruz called Trump a pathological liar, the kind who does not know the difference between lies and truth. Whatever the clinical diagnosis, we do appear to be getting, in place of the once famous Big Lie of the nineteen-thirties, a sordid blizzard of lies. The Big Lie was fit for a time of processionals and nighttime rallies, and films that featured them. The blizzard of lies is made for Twitter and the quick hit of an impulse culture. Trump’s lies arrive with such rapidity that before one can be refuted a new one comes to take its place. It wasn’t his voice on that tape of pitiful self-promotion. O.K., it was—but he never mocked the handicapped reporter, he was merely imitating an obsequious one. The media eventually moves on, shrugging helplessly, to the next lie. Then the next lie, and the next. If the lies are bizarre enough and frequent enough, they provoke little more than a nervous giggle and a cry of “Well, guess he’s changed the rules!”
He’s not Hitler, as his wife recently said? Well, of course he isn’t. But then Hitler wasn’t Hitler—until he was. At each step of the way, the shock was tempered by acceptance. It depended on conservatives pretending he wasn’t so bad, compared with the Communists, while at the same time the militant left decided that their real enemies were the moderate leftists, who were really indistinguishable from the Nazis. The radical progressives decided that there was no difference between the democratic left and the totalitarian right and that an explosion of institutions was exactly the most thrilling thing imaginable.
The American Republic stands threatened by the first overtly anti-democratic leader of a large party in its modern history—an authoritarian with no grasp of history, no impulse control, and no apparent barriers on his will to power. The right thing to do, for everyone who believes in liberal democracy, is to gather around and work to defeat him on Election Day. Instead, we seem to be either engaged in parochial feuding or caught by habits of tribal hatred so ingrained that they have become impossible to escape even at moments of maximum danger. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t mind bringing down the Democratic Party to prevent it from surrendering to corporate forces—and yet he may be increasing the possibility of rule-by-billionaire.
There is a difference between major and minor issues, and between primary and secondary values. Many of us think that it would be terrible if the radical-revisionist reading of the Second Amendment created by the Heller decision eight years ago was kept in place in a constitutional court; many on the other side think it would be terrible if that other radical decision, Roe v. Wade, continued to be found to be compatible with the constitutional order. What we all should agree on is that the one thing worse would be to have no constitutional order left to argue about. If Trump came to power, there is a decent chance that the American experiment would be over. This is not a hyperbolic prediction; it is not a hysterical prediction; it is simply a candid reading of what history tells us happens in countries with leaders like Trump. Countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent, left or right—not by Peróns or Castros or Putins or Francos or Lenins or fill in the blanks. The nation may survive, but the wound to hope and order will never fully heal. Ask Argentinians or Chileans or Venezuelans or Russians or Italians—or Germans. The national psyche never gets over learning that its institutions are that fragile and their ability to resist a dictator that weak. If he can rout the Republican Party in a week by having effectively secured the nomination, ask yourself what Trump could do with the American government if he had a mandate. Before those famous schoolroom lines, Pope made another observation, which was that even as you recognize that the world is a mixed-up place, you still can’t fool yourself about the difference between the acceptable and the unacceptable: “Fools! who from hence into the notion fall / That vice or virtue there is none at all,” he wrote. “Is there no black or white? / Ask your own heart, and nothing is so plain; / ’Tis to mistake them, costs the time and pain.” The pain of not seeing that black is black soon enough will be ours, and the time to recognize this is now.
A powerful array of the Republican Party’s largest financial backers remains deeply resistant to Donald J. Trump’s presidential candidacy, forming a wall of opposition that could make it exceedingly difficult for him to meet his goal of raising $1 billion before the November election.
Interviews and emails with more than 50 of the Republican Party’s largest donors, or their representatives, revealed a measure of contempt and distrust toward their own party’s nominee that is unheard of in modern presidential politics.
More than a dozen of the party’s most reliable individual contributors and wealthy families indicated that they would not give to or raise money for Mr. Trump. This group has contributed a combined $90 million to conservative candidates and causes in the last three federal elections, mainly to “super PACs” dedicated to electing Republican candidates.
Up to this point, Mr. Trump has embraced the hostility of the Republican establishment, goading the party’s angry base with diatribes against wealthy donors who he claimed controlled politicians. And he has succeeded while defying conventions of presidential campaigning, relying on media attention and large rallies to fire up supporters, and funding his operation with a mix of his own money and small-dollar contributions.
But that formula will be tested as he presents himself to a far larger audience of voters. Mr. Trump has turned to the task of winning over elites he once attacked, with some initial success. And he has said he hopes to raise $1 billion, an enormous task given that he named a finance chairman and started scheduling fund-raisers only this month.
Among the party’s biggest financiers disavowing Mr. Trump are Paul E. Singer, a New York investor who has spent at least $28 million for national Republicans since the 2012 election, and Joe Ricketts, the TD Ameritrade founder who with his wife Marlene has spent nearly $30 million over the same period of time, as well as the hedge fund managers William Oberndorf and Seth Klarman, and the Florida hospital executive Mike Fernandez.
“If it is Trump vs. Clinton,” Mr. Oberndorf said, “I will be voting for Hillary.”
The rejection of Mr. Trump among some of the party’s biggest donors and fund-raisers reflects several strains of hostility to his campaign. Donors cited his fickleness on matters of policy and what they saw as an ad hoc populist platform focused on trade protectionism and immigration. Several mentioned Mr. Trump’s own fortune, suggesting that if he was as wealthy as he claimed, then he should not need their assistance.
Among the more than 50 donors contacted, only nine have said unambiguously that they will contribute to Mr. Trump. They include Sheldon G. Adelson, the casino billionaire; the energy executive T. Boone Pickens; Foster Friess, a wealthy mutual fund investor; and Richard H. Roberts, a pharmaceutical executive. Mr. Friess wrote in an email that Mr. Trump deserved credit for inspiring “truckers, farmers, welders, hospitality workers — the people who really make our country function.”
Some major donors have not explicitly closed the door on helping Mr. Trump, but have set a high bar for him to earn their support, demanding an almost complete makeover of his candidacy and a repudiation of his own inflammatory statements.
“Until we have a better reason to embrace and support the top of the ticket, and see an agenda that is truly an opportunity agenda, then we have lots of other options in which to invest and spend our time helping,” said Betsy DeVos, a Michigan Republican whose family has given nearly $9.5 million over the last three elections to party causes and candidates.
But others simply believe Mr. Trump is unfit to serve in the Oval Office. Michael K. Vlock, a Connecticut investor who has given nearly $5 million to Republicans at the federal level since 2014, said he considered Mr. Trump a dangerous person.
“He’s an ignorant, amoral, dishonest and manipulative, misogynistic, philandering, hyper-litigious, isolationist, protectionist blowhard,” Mr. Vlock said.
Mr. Vlock said he might give to Hillary Clinton instead, describing her as “the devil we know.”
“I really believe our republic will survive Hillary,” he said.
At a dinner of the Manhattan Institute in New York earlier this month, Bruce Kovner, a New York-based investor who has given $3.1 million to national Republicans in recent years, argued to a collection of influential conservatives that Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton were both unacceptable choices.
“When I talk to my colleagues and friends in similar positions, they have the same degree of discomfort,” Mr. Kovner said in an interview.
Unless Mr. Trump can win over more benefactors, he is likely to become the first Republican presidential nominee in decades to be heavily outspent by his Democratic opponent, and may find it difficult to pay for both the voter-turnout operations and the paid advertising campaigns that are typically required in a general election.
Both President Obama and Mitt Romney raised over $1 billion in 2012, and Mrs. Clinton is expected to exceed that figure easily.
Charles G. and David H. Koch, the country’s two most prolific conservative donors, are not expected to back Mr. Trump, and their advisers have been scathing in private assessments of Mr. Trump’s candidacy and his policy agenda.
The Kochs, who command a vast network of conservative donors, have scheduled a conference of their allies in Colorado in late July, where much of their 2016 spending may be determined.
A spokesman for the Kochs, James Davis, said they were chiefly focused on helping Republicans retain control of Congress, and many of their allies, along with other Republican givers, indicated in interviews that they were focused exclusively on the same goal.
Even among the handful of big donors Mr. Trump has won over, doubts persist about both his abilities as a candidate and the political apparatus supporting him.
But Mr. Trump still has no sanctioned “super PAC” able to raise unlimited sums to support his campaign. A gathering next month at Mr. Pickens’s Texas ranch that was to be sponsored by one of the pro-Trump groups, Great America PAC, has been called off because Mr. Pickens was not sure he was hosting Mr. Trump’s preferred super PAC.
At a Republican Governors Association donor retreat last week in New Mexico, there was a debate on the sidelines about whether to support Mr. Trump. Mr. Friess argued that the Supreme Court vacancy made it imperative to rally around Mr. Trump. But Mr. Friess acknowledged in an email that enthusiasm for Mr. Trump was limited among his fellow major donors. If some agreed there was “no sensible choice other than to rally around Trump,” Mr. Friess said, many contributors viewed that prospect with “the same enthusiasm as a root canal.”
Walter Buckley, the founder of a Pennsylvania financial management company, said he decided to support Mr. Trump after Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey endorsed him. Predicting that Mr. Trump would shake up Washington, Mr. Buckley, said, “This political system needs a shaking like it’s probably not had in 100 years.”
But Mr. Buckley, who said he would be willing to contribute to the Trump campaign or to a super PAC supporting him, said he remained upset about Mr. Trump’s mockery of Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, for having been captured in Vietnam.
“I don’t think anything that anybody’s ever said on the political front has bothered me more than that,” Mr. Buckley said.