As the Trump administration attempts to find stable footing following their “loss” in federal court over the “Muslim Ban,” the executive branch is now dealing with the fallout of what some believe could be the biggest political scandal since “Watergate.” While it is hard to say, for now, how much more there is to know and whether or not the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia were as ethically dubious as they seem, it is safe to say that the “Russian connection” will remain an issue of intrigue for the foreseeable future.
There are many compelling threads concerning the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, but the one that stands out the most, so far, is the fact that former NSC advisor Michael Flynn and possibly several others were in frequent contact with the Russian government before Trump took office. Under the much discussed but highly nebulous “Logan Act,” no private, American citizens can negotiate with foreign government without official authorization. Only one person has ever been indicted under the felony offense, but the potential scandal regarding lies and misinformation could plague the Trump administration worse than any Logan Act conviction ever could. Also, the scandal has surprisingly turned even more former allies against Trump, including administration officials, intelligence operatives and media members. Remember, “the leaks are real, but the new is fake.”
Personally, though, what interests me the most about the scandal is how it has had little to no impact on the opinions of a GOP that was just recently relishing the fact that Obama was, ostensibly, mistaken when he said Russia was not America’s “top geopolitical adversary \.” Now, as we have discussed in class, public perception towards divisive issues can largely be shaped by political party affiliation.
This scandal, once again, brings attention to an occurrence within political science that has interested me since the beginning of Trump’s campaign: when it comes to the “less important” issues, will the majority of people, or at least a significant portion of the population, change their views previously held views to match either their party or their favored candidate? The first, clear example of this phenomena regarding Trump, I recall, was when a considerable portion of the GOP electorate dramatically changed their views on “free trade.” As the prospect of a Trump presidency gained notoriety and positive feedback from the GOP base, there was a sharp, rapid decline in the GOP’s positive feelings towards “free trade.” As recently as 2015, 51% of GOP leaning voters believed free trade had been a “good thing.” In 2016, that number of GOP leaning voters who thought free trade to be a “good thing” dropped all the way to 32%. N0w, either millions of GOP voters decided to research, analyze and alter their opinions on trade within the course of a single year, or their new opinion was formulated by constantly seeing Donald Trump bash America’s “bad trade deals.”
Similarly, GOP voters are having a similar change of heart towards America’s relationship towards Russia and Putin. After the campaign and election of Trump, GOP voters have overwhelmingly warmed to the idea of an improved relationship with the former Soviet Union, and they have also warmed to the idea of working with Putin. The same can also be said in regards to public opinion of “the Russian hacks” and “Wikileaks.”
My feelings have always been, though, that there is breaking point for most people when it comes to their ability to rationalize or defend. So, hopefully in my opinon, that point is more mild than severe, and comes sooner rather than later.