Over the last week it has become clear that the default position of the Hillary Clinton campaign is to attack Donald Trump by attacking Vladimir Putin.
That was the same tactic that was used during the Brexit referendum by the Remain campaign. Despite protests from the Russian government the Remain campaign repeatedly claimed that the only foreign leader who wanted Britain to exit the EU was Vladimir Putin. This despite the fact that Putin – unlike US President Obama and several EU leaders – made no public comment on the issue until almost the end of the Brexit referendum campaign. When Putin was finally forced to comment about it (because of media questions) he said that it was a strictly internal British matter in which Russia was not involved and was not taking sides.
The important thing however is that the British Remain campaign’s attempt to use Putin as a scarecrow to frighten British voters into voting Remain was a total failure. There is no evidence it persuaded a single British voter to change their vote.
I predict the same will be true in the US election. Though Britain and the US are very different societies, I think the liberal elite in both countries is making the same mistake: they think non-elite people (ie. the great mass of voters) are as obsessed by Putin as they are.
I doubt this is the case. I think most British and US voters broadly accept the elite’s claims about Putin: that he is corrupt, ruthless and authoritarian. However my impression is that this goes hand in hand with a grudging though cynical respect for him as a strong leader who is not to be messed with. More to the point I don’t think they think much about him or consider him or Russia dangerous. On the contrary they see jihadi terrorism – which unlike Russia has actually carried out terrorist attacks on US and EU soil – as the enemy, and are open to the idea floated by Putin and Trump of the US and Russia joining forces to fight this common enemy. Issues like Ukraine and the Baltic States by contrast are remote and far away and barely interest them.
As for the idea that such an extremely American figure as Donald Trump – whom US voters have come to know and form a view about over several decades – could possibly be a Russian agent, that is just too farfetched for most voters.
Unless Hillary Clinton is careful she could find that by banging on about Putin she is losing the voters’ attention. This whilst Donald Trump talks about issues voters genuinely care about such as immigration, law and order and jobs.