After four years of tensions in U.S.-Russia relations, there is a chance that with a new American president and administration, relations between Moscow and Washington might actually improve.
Pictured (left-right): Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican counterpart Donald Trump. Photo: AP
While many experts point to 2014 and the Ukraine crisis as the turning point for U.S.-Russian relations, the deterioration actually began two years earlier. After all the high expectations for what the “reset” could bring, a new political cycle after the re-election of Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin in 2012 brought U.S. and Russia into another Cold War-style confrontation.
The growth of anti-American sentiment in Russia came as a response to the introduction of Western sanctions on Russia, the growing crisis in the national economy, and open criticism of Russian foreign policy in Ukraine. All of that has established new political challenges that made it more complicated for both countries to find a common ground. In addition, personal relations between Obama and Putin left much to be desired. Thier disagreements on Syria, Ukraine and European security only aggravated the problem.
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At this moment, the forthcoming upcoming presidential election in the U.S. and the parliamentary elections in Russia may be the last hope to set up a better relationship between the U.S. and Russia. Anyway, Moscow views the forthcoming election season in the U.S. as an opportunity to start afresh, to revitalize dialogue with a new U.S. administration.
Presidential elections in the US
The 2016 presidential election in the U.S. has become a truly historic phenomenon. Choosing between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton is difficult for the already polarized American electorate, a significant part of which has remained unsatisfied with the results of the Obama administration and its approach to many domestic and foreign problems.
The American voters are divided and overheated today. This presidential race has already resulted in a great number of made-for-TV political scandals, starting from Trump’s ostentatious public statements (discriminatory comments against women, Muslims, Mexicans, etc.) and ending with the FBI investigation of Clinton’s email and current controversy over the Clinton Foundation [the Democratic candidate allegedly met with the Clinton Foundation’s big-dollar donors in an official capacity during her time as secretary of state on a regular basis — Editor's note].
The recent Republican and Democratic conventions have added fuel to this latest scandal, with the alleged plagiarism of U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech by Trump's wife, Melania, and email leaks from the Democratic party after a hacker attack, which according to U.S. officials, was conducted by Russian hacker groups connected to the Kremlin.
Given the current events in the U.S., the key issues that the Republican and Democratic parties need to address are the issues of terrorism and national security, foreign policy, the domestic economy and the tax system, immigration reform, gun control and criminal justice.
Who supports Trump?
The average Trump voter is a working class “angry white man” lacking higher education, threatened by the issues of unemployment, immigration and radical Islamic terror. In December 2016, a Washington Post analysis found that Trump's supporters are mostly white men without a college education.
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Trump’s strategy can be reduced to four simple words: “Make America Great Again.” He is advocating for strict immigration policy, a stronger economy, reform of education and healthcare, and a stronger military. After winning the primaries in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota, Trump became increasingly outspoken in his statements. According to many experts, this is equivalent to committing “political suicide,” and has already made Trump a Republican outsider.
Many believe that Trump lacks a real strategy. His campaign team may have forgotten that the general election voter base is much larger and demographically very different from the relatively small electorate he won in the Republican primaries.
However, if the trend in this election of voters choosing anti-establishment candidates continues, this eventually may bring Trump a victory.
Who supports Hillary Clinton?
Clinton’s supporters are primarily minority groups (African-American and Hispanic voters), women, educated workers, and members of the U.S. establishment. Some experts assume that the people who voted for Obama, America’s first black President, will vote for Clinton, the potential first woman President, believing that this historic pattern will hold true in 2016.
However, Clinton supporters are not really “fired up,” as she seems to have won their minds, but not their hearts. According to recent polls, people think she is dishonest and untrustworthy. But it does not really matter how much voters lack trust in Clinton, the Democrats will still have to vote for her, in order not to let Trump win.
In her attempts to win the votes and soften her political image, Clinton is applying an interesting strategy in her campaign. At some point, the Internet was flooded with her old black-and-white family photos, from her younger years in college and her early career, portraying her as an inspired activist woman, a wife and a mother, all of which aimed at making Clinton more relatable for voters.
These nostalgic photographs were designed to present Clinton as an “average person” (the “young career woman,” the “likable mom”) — rather than a politician with a global brand. This campaign aims to neutralize the negative image she gained after the 2012 Benghazi attack in Libya [which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith] and the email server incidents [In March 2015, it was revealed that Clinton, during her tenure as U.S Secretary of State, had exclusively used her personal email server for official communications, rather than official State Department email accounts — Editor's note].
Forecasts for the US election
Some experts have already predicted the victory of Trump, who once appeared to be a big joke of American politics. Unexpectedly, he has gained great support among voters, as he represents the anti-establishment (the opposition to traditional elites), who does not take money from corporations, and says what is on his mind. People who are tired of being “politically correct” and want a change will vote for him.
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But given the number of minorities that Trump has already insulted in his statements, there might just be not enough “angry white males” in the country to vote him into office. For his victory, Trump needs to collect the majority of votes in only a few major swing states - Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania – in addition to those states that traditionally vote for Republican candidates.
Meanwhile, Clinton has a good chance to become the next U.S. President because of the support of minority groups (Hispanics and African Americans) that have started playing a greater role in this election. On the other hand, the Democrats have several important challenges: Clinton’s level of trust is very low, and the Democratic party is polarized more than ever (many of the voters were strong supporters of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders) which might limit Democratic turnout at this election. If many Democrats do not come to vote at this election, it may mean victory for the Republican candidate.
Despite the great polarization, for the first time in many years, America has to deal with the phenomenon of the “depressed voter,” a voter who does not want to choose between two bad choices, and does not support any of the nominated candidates – neither Clinton nor Trump – and very likely will not go to vote at all.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.