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17 November 2016

This 2014 Donald Trump interview hints at a new kind of special relationship

In a conversation with Fox News, the now-President Elect said the US "should not be knocking" Russia. 

By Stephanie Boland

On occasion, Donald Trump has claimed he has had “nothing to do” with Russia. Nevertheless, Vladimir Putin was one of the first world leaders on the line to the President-elect, and Trump once urged Russia to hack his rival’s emails on the campaign trail. The two men both seek to project a strong image, tap into nationalistic rhetoric and love a good photo shoot. 

Among the commentariat, reports of a potentially Russia-friendly administration are increasingly hard to avoid. Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times speculates what concessions Trump might make, while analysts tell The Independent Putin has been “emboldened” by Trump’s victory. And last week Reuters’ Andrew Osborn, who has covered the link between Trump and Russia in some depth, reported that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said there had been “contacts” with members of Trump’s team during the campaign.

But could Trump have plans for Russia which date back even further? Back in August, journalist Sarah Kendzior posted a link to a 2014 Fox News interview that gives an intriguing hint as to Trump’s ideas for US-Russian collaboration. 

The segment, hosted on the Fox News website, begins with a discussion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – commonly known as Obamacare – which was to be introduced a month later.

In the clip, the future president says the Democrats have “found a really wonderful justification for themselves, and for elections, but not for the country, as it takes away the incentive to work”.

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Asked by his host if the measure is therefore “killing the American dream”, Trump replies: “It’s a very different kind of American dream, where you don’t have to do anything and you can live very nicely.”

“A lot of people live better without having a job, than with having a job. I’ve had it where you have people and you want to hire them, but they can’t take the job for a period of nine months because they’re doing better now than they would with a job.”

So far, so predictable. His proposed solution, however, is more likely to raise eyebrows.

“You know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell, and everything is a disaster, then you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be, when we were great.”

The discussion then moves on to Russia and specifically the Russian Olympics. Fox introduces this segment with a clip of Mike McCaul, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, suggesting that the games are a security risk. “It’s highly likely something will detonate”, he says.

Trump’s response, however, sidesteps security questions. Instead, he encourages Americans to praise the “good job” Russia has done in preparing for the games, and claims to have previously had friendly contact with Putin.

Well, Mike [McCaul] is a good Republican from Texas, and I hear a very good guy, but I think we should give the Russians a little bit of leeway here.

I mean, they spent billions and billions, a number that was beyond any number I’ve ever heard.

They spent all of this money, and I think we should not be knocking them at this point. And then we wonder why they don’t like us, and why they’re eating our lunch in every country that we’re dealing with against them.

I really think we should say, hey look, they’re really out there doing a good job. Every time I turn on the television we’re showing a guy knocking down a door because his door lock doesn’t work, we’re showing all of these things, and I’ll tell you something: if I’m Putin, I’m not happy with it. And I’ll tell you something, he’s not happy with it.

I was in Russia with the Miss Universe pageant. He contacted me and he was so nice. The Russian people were so fantastic to us.

And they’re outsmarting us at many turns, as we all understand. Their leaders are – whether you call them smarter, or more cunning, or whatever, but they’re outsmarting us if you look at Syria and other places.

I really think we should not be knocking that country.

It is a final, ambigious comment, however, that is most intriguing.

I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt, and then go on and win something important later on, because they’re not going to be so opposed to what we’re doing.

True, in the context of the Olympics, “win something” could simply refer to medals – but, following up on his mention of the Middle East, “[Russia is] not going to be so opposed to what we’re doing” may whisper at something more.

Perhaps it’s time to keep a look out for a new “special relationship”…