"During his administration, Trump will be friendly with Putin," Trump said in an August interview with CNBC. Trump kept up this posture even as the intelligence community suggested Russia was meddling in the U.S. presidential election by disclosing emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign and as Democrats argued Russia was trying to elect Trump. Trump didn't care; he still said nice things.
In the end, Trump's kind words about Putin and overtures toward a stronger relationship with Russia didn't cost him the 2016 election. But that doesn't necessarily mean people liked it. And you can rest assured that foreign policy leaders will have thoughts in the hours and days ahead.
The fact is that plenty of tension remains between the United States and Russia, two countries that since the Cold War have certainly had ups and downs. But Trump never really seemed to be perturbed by that increasingly uneasy relationship and its political implications.
Just four years ago, you might recall, Trump's predecessor as the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, called Russia the United States's top "geopolitical foe." In 2016, Trump offered a different approach from the start.
“If we could get along with Russia, wouldn’t that be a good thing, instead of a bad thing?" he said in July. "Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along, as an example, with Russia?” he said a couple days prior in Florida. And a couple days before that in North Carolina: "Wouldn't it be nice if we got together with Russia and knocked the hell out of ISIS?"
Then there are the comments about making friends with Russia. That sounds nice in theory, but it's pretty apparent that Americans are skeptical of who their new ally would be. And that makes Trump's early move much more fraught.
Eighty-six percent of Americans regard the military power of Russia as either an "important" or "critical" threat to the vital interests of the United States. And 68 percent regard Russia as either "unfriendly" or an "enemy" of the United States. Twenty-one percent say it's friendly, and 5 percent call it an ally — numbers that are both down massively from the early 2000s.
The trajectory makes clear that Russia has fallen out of favor with Americans in recent years. And Democrats were smart to seize on that.
It didn't make the difference politically, but now Trump is a major player on the world stage, trying to make his Russia goals into a reality. And winning that geopolitical campaign won't be easy either.