Donald Trump is like a real-life Manchurian candidate

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump
John Moore | Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump

This commentary originally appeared on The Hill.

With Republicans facing the growing prospect of a landslide defeat that could return control of the Senate and potentially the House to Democrats, 50 leading GOP national security figures announced on Monday that they refuse to vote for Donald Trump because they consider him a danger to American national security.

For many months I have written in The Hill that Trump, now the GOP nominee, has a strange and disquieting habit of offering sympathy and praise to foreign dictators who wish America ill. He has favorably tweeted the words of Benito Mussolini, the Italian fascist from darker days. He has had kind words for Kim Jong Il, the mass murdering dictator of North Korea. And the words of mutual praise exchanged between Trump and former KGB officer and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin will someday be legendary in the history of presidential politics.

Republicans, independents, swing voters and GOP members of the House and Senate who are staking their re-election campaigns on their support for Trump to be president and commander in chief should thoughtfully reflect on the recent op-ed in The New York Times by former acting CIA Director Michael Morell.

The op-ed is titled "I ran the CIA. Now I'm endorsing Hillary Clinton." Morell, who has spent decades protecting our security in the intelligence business, offered high praise for the Democratic nominee and former secretary of State based on his years of working closely with her in the high councils of government. But Morell went even further than praising and endorsing Clinton.

In one of the most extraordinary and unprecedented statements in the history of presidential politics, which powerfully supports the case that every Republican running for office should unequivocally state that they will refuse to vote for Trump or face potentially catastrophic consequences at the polls, Morell wrote: "In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation."

This brings to mind the novel and motion picture "The Manchurian Candidate," which about an American who was captured during the Korean War and brainwashed to unwittingly carry out orders to advance the interests of communists against America.

I offer no suggestion about Trump's motives in repeatedly saying things, and advocating positions, that are so destructive to American national security interests, though Trump owes the American people full and immediate disclosure of his tax returns for them to determine what, if any, business interests or debt may exist with Russian or other hostile foreign sources.

Whatever Trump's motivation, Morell is right in suggesting the billionaire nominee is at the least acting as an "unwitting agent" who often advances the interests of foreign actors hostile to America.

Most intelligence experts believe the email leaks attacking Hillary Clinton at the time of the Democratic National Convention were originally obtained through espionage by Russian intelligence services engaging in cyberwar against America, and then shared with WikiLeaks by Russian sources engaged in an infowar against America.

Do Republicans running for the House and Senate in 2016 want to be aligned with a Russian strongman and his intelligence services engaging in covert action against America for the presumed purpose of electing Putin's preferred candidate? Do they believe Trump when he says he was only kidding when he publicly supported these espionage practices and called for them to be escalated?

Do Republicans running in 2016 believe that America should have a commander in chief who has harshly criticized NATO and stated that if Russia invades the Baltic states, Eastern Europe states such as Poland, or Western Europe he is not committed to defending our allies against this aggression?

Do Republicans running in 2016 support a commander in chief who has endorsed Britain's vote to leave the European Union, appeared to endorse Russia's annexation of Crimea, and falsely stated that Russia "is not in Ukraine"?

Do Republicans running in 2016 favor a commander in chief who disdains heroic American POWs by saying he prefers troops who were never captured, and says he would order American troops to commit torture in violation of the Geneva Conventions and international law?

Do Republicans running in 2016 favor a president who campaigns for a ban on immigration of Muslims so extreme that a long list of experts, including retired Gen. and former CIA Director David Petraeus, correctly argue it would help ISIS and other terror groups that seek to kill us?

Do Republicans running in 2016 realize that Trump's proposal to build a wall on our borders similar to the Berlin Wall erected by the Soviets, coupled with his defamation of immigrants as rapists and murderers, would not only alienate Hispanic voters for a generation but provide a major boost to anti-American extremists across Latin America more successfully than any words Fidel Castro could say today?

I do not question Donald Trump's patriotism. But for whatever reason Trump advocates policies, again and again, that would help America's adversaries like Russia and enemies like ISIS and make him, in Morell's powerful words, "an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation."

In "The Manchurian Candidate," our enemies sought to influence our politics at the highest level. What troubles a growing number of Republicans in Congress, and so many Republican and Democratic national security leaders, is that, in 2016, life imitates art, aided and abetted by what appears to be a Russian covert action designed to elect the next American president.

Commentary by Brent Budowsky, an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill's Contributors blog.

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