Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is denying softening the Republican platform to accommodate Russia and Vladimir Putin. The GOP candidate has been under intense scrutiny for possible connections to Moscow. Manafort – who allegedly worked for Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s ousted President and Putin ally – is one of many potential liabilities in the Trump-Putin connection.
After a sudden, last-minute change, the RNC platform for 2016 started to look more like Obama’s foreign policy than many Republicans were comfortable with. According to the Los Angeles Times, calls to provide arms to Ukraine were gutted by Trump surrogates and replaced with support for “providing appropriate assistance.”
For Charlie Black, a longtime Republican strategist, that seemed very odd.
“Virtually every Republican in Congress voted to provide defensive arms to Ukraine and they still support it. This puts the platform on the side of the Obama administration and its weak response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.”
Paul Manafort said to NBC News that the platform rewrites “absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign.”
Likewise, Donald Trump said early on, “I was not involved in that. I’d like to – I’d have to take a look at it. But I was not involved in that.”
Paul Manafort’s connections to the ousted, pro-Russia, Ukrainian government are not helping suspicions of Trump. According to Politifact, Manafort was an unofficial political consultant for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Putin Ukrainian president, starting in 2006. Ukrainian political expert Oleg Kravchenko claims that the American played a “decisive role” in Yanukovych’s campaign victory to become president.
Paul Manafort describes his role there a bit differently.
“The role that I played in that administration was to help bring Ukraine into Europe, and we did. We succeeded.”
Manafort’s history, combined with Donald Trump’s business connections in Russia and his public hopes that Moscow successfully hacks DNC candidate Hillary Clinton, is fueling speculation of Russian interference in the U.S. elections.
Still, in the end, both DNC and RNC platforms castigate Russia’s foreign policies towards Ukraine, painting Putin as a leader who should not be trusted. The larger context of the RNC platform is featured below.
“We support maintaining and, if warranted, increasing sanctions, together with our allies, against Russia unless and until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored. We also support providing appropriate assistance to the armed forces of Ukraine and greater coordination with NATO defense planning.”
The GOP repeatedly claims that President Obama has made the U.S. weaker militarily. Likewise, the DNC makes specific mention of Donald Trump trying to appease Putin, saying “Donald Trump would overturn more than 50 years of American foreign policy by abandoning NATO partners – 44 countries who help us fight terrorism every day – and embracing Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
That line follows the theme of this year’s platform – Donald Trump. In total, the DNC mentions the GOP candidate 32 separate times, whereas the Republicans mention Hillary Clinton by name just once.
Whether or not Paul Manafort or Trump had a direct hand in the changes, some GOP leaders are appalled. Ohio Governor John Kasich called the change a “terrible mistake.” He also called out Trump for suggesting that the U.S. under his administration would not automatically defend NATO allies in the Baltics if attacked.
To that, Kasich said, “We think NATO doesn’t matter? Are we kidding?”
Donald Trump has also suggested that he would not pressure authoritarian leaders to respect human rights domestically, even if in the middle of a public crackdown, like in Turkey.
Still, the RNC might have good reason to change the call to send weapons to Ukraine. Obama’s officials have debated the idea, but the POTUS has declined to go through with it, worried the arms shipments would only worsen the situation. The Republicans might suddenly be seeing the same logic, and, according to Paul Manafort and Trump, they came to that conclusion on their own.
[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]