Viewpoint

With Trump campaign advisor, East meets West

When democracy arrived in the eastern half of Europe a quarter century ago, imported from the West, it did not come in its purest form. Of course the West loaned the East quite a few constitutional lawyers and idealists. But on the heels of the idealists arrived another crowd of "experts": spin doctors, masters of negative campaigning and public relations firms who had honed their craft in U.S. elections and were more than willing to sell their expertise in the East.

Famously, a group of California political consultants claimed to have masterminded Boris Yeltsin's campaign to win the Russian presidency in 1996. Even if their role wasn't what they spun it to be, that campaign, like many that followed, deployed what were generally called "American-style" campaign tactics.

But now we may be about to witness the opposite phenomenon: the flow of political influence from East to West. Donald Trump's new campaign adviser Paul Manafort returns to U.S. politics after years spent working for Viktor Yanukovych, president of Ukraine until he fled the country in disgrace in 2014. We don't really know what Manafort did for his Ukrainian client. But we do know how Yanukovych won the Ukrainian 2010 election and how he ran the country. Perhaps Manafort can transmit some lessons from his experience for a would-be U.S. president.

Yanukovych did undergo an "image makeover" strikingly similar to the one that Trump needs right now. Yanukovych was an ex-con, close to Russian-backed business interests in Ukraine. But he cleaned up his act, stopped using criminal jargon and presented himself as a "reform" candidate. Since everybody was sick of the crooked establishment, he won – even though he was no more honest than the people he'd said he was trying to beat. This is what Trump is going to try to do. Manafort, obviously, can help.

Yanukovych also became famous for using rented thugs, known as "titushki," who intimidated opposition protestors, journalists, or whoever needed to be scared off. We've seen prototype versions of this tactic already in use at Trump rallies. Perhaps Manafort, fresh off his experiences in Ukraine, can develop the concept further.

Some of Yanukovych's tactics might be harder to deploy, such as falsifying election results (though it's not like that never happened in the U.S.) or abolishing the right to protest (though Trump at times sounds like he wouldn't mind passing such a law if he could). But others are already in use. Pro-Trump troll armies, for example are already in the field.

Another Yanukovych tactic – paid supporters at rallies – is already in the Trump arsenal too. Let's just hope that, if Trump wins, we won't need a Maidan revolution to put American democracy back together again.

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum is also the Director of the Global Transitions Program at the Legatum Institute in London.

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