Sitting In Front of Putin: Psychological Analysis of the 2016 Presidential Candidates

A new, unexpected theme appeared in the American political discourse in advance of the upcoming presidential election. Politicians, analysts, journalists, bloggers and social network users talk about presidential candidates in terms of their willingness to “sit down at the negotiating table with Putin” and deliver important messages to him. The main element of the discussion was the question of whether each candidate has sufficient “political testosterone” and “machismo,” regardless of their gender, age or experience.

This is exactly what set the angle of our research, with a study of the psychological characteristics of the main candidates and how the candidates could affect the U.S.-Russia relationship. The study was conducted with various methods: biographical, expert evaluations and analysis of the candidates’ behaviors and texts, including with the VAAL psycholinguistic method. It is necessary to emphasize that during election campaigns in any country, candidates use a lot of “routine” statements that are not always helpful in analyzing their personalities and beliefs. The main focus is on texts that reflect their personal characteristics, principal beliefs and values.

At this moment, the main political intrigue is the name of the candidate who will represent the Republican Party at the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump and Ben Carson are at the top of the rating list. They are both new figures in politics: one is the tycoon, and the other is a neurosurgeon. Donald Trump and Ben Carson are both unlikely to be considered main candidates by the party. There are also two strong and more experienced politicians: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. They are more suitable presidential candidates, but both are far behind Trump and Carson on the rating list.

Donald Trump: A certain number of psychologists and psychiatrists think Mr. Trump has pronounced signs of narcissism. It is necessary to admit that this is a common phenomenon among politicians, from all over the world. Mr. Trump was raised in a family where children were not loved, not praised and not fondled, and the only criterion for their recognition was success. It is not surprising that Mr. Trump became flexible and quick in his actions, always seeking new opportunities, risk-averse, anxious and ambitious, powerful, striving for success and a pragmatist.

Mr. Trump has great need for recognition and adoration. He praises himself constantly; he is unable to wait for words of admiration from others. He calls himself “a wonderful man,” “the next greatest president that was ever created by God,” “the only one who can beat Hillary Clinton.” He speaks of himself in the third person: “I think Trump will hold talks [with ISIS] better than others.”*

Mr. Trump’s behavior clearly shows his exaggerated sense of self-importance and greatness. He sees himself as the main factor in his achievements, as a winner and a champion. The basic structure of his speeches in this regard is, “No one can do anything better than I do!” Mr. Trump’s greatness lies in the recognition of his personal achievements, success and originality. He needs reinforcement of his identity, strengthening of his self-esteem through external recognition. However, to be able to comprehend his potential interaction with Vladimir Putin, it is important to understand that Mr. Putin will never perceive him as a winner: not only is Mr. Putin not capable of this — he is not even ready.

Mr. Putin easily diagnoses his communication partners. It is more than enough for him to become familiar with Mr. Trump’s performances to be able to understand, from the first minute, Mr. Trump’s vulnerability and fragility. Moreover, Mr. Putin will start pushing Mr. Trump aside as soon as he senses his weakness. This is a quite natural political reflex, nothing personal. And even if Mr. Putin sincerely likes Mr. Trump, he is an introvert and won’t be able to express his feelings verbally. Mr. Trump has a need for admiration, which he will never get from the Russian leader. This means Mr. Trump won’t receive the approval he expects, and he will start hating Putin as his most ferocious betrayer — the betrayer of his hopes.

We don’t even need to mention that if humbled and humiliated, Trump will abandon the perfect idea of mending a dialogue between Russia and the U.S. After the disappointment, he will begin taking revenge and trying to punish his offender in the most painful way. Then, conflict between the U.S. and Russia might acquire a sharp personal shade.

Mr. Trump truly believes he is special, and he is willing to cooperate only with someone who is equal to him — another special person. The only problem is that from Mr. Putin’s perspective, he is not an equal. Mr. Trump is an amateur in politics; he has limited experience. In the best case scenario, an experienced fighter, Mr. Putin, will treat the recruit, Mr. Trump, in a fatherly manner. Mr. Trump will be very disappointed, especially because he believes in his ability to establish good relations with the Russian president.

Mr. Trump’s dreams of unlimited power will disappear pretty soon. Mr. Putin’s imperious reflexes simply will not allow him to compromise with a weaker politician like Mr. Trump, but he will also behave rigidly, showing who is boss and blocking everything that is not profitable to him. Mr. Trump will be greatly disappointed, and his personal problems could seriously escalate. A president with a serious crisis of self-esteem is a very dangerous commander-in-chief, with access to the nuclear button. The consequences of his actions under these conditions can be fatal. The communicative style of Mr. Trump is a part of his personal brand. His arrogance knows no bounds. He is proud of his pathological rudeness. However, as every psychologist knows, behind the facade of speech aggression lurks the desire for self-protection. Mr. Putin is known for his poisonous sarcasm, and he could successfully compete with Mr. Trump in hard rhetorical sparring. If Mr. Trump was to make a reckless comment about Mr. Putin or Russia, it would guarantee a fight of caustic remarks. And it is not a fact that Mr. Trump will come out victorious from this fight. Mutual insults by two political leaders, beyond the adopted protocol, can provoke very risky actions.

It’s hardly that Mr. Putin, when he became president in 2000, missed Mr. Trump’s statement: “We need to tell Russia and other recipients that if they want our dime they had better do our dance, at least in matters regarding our national security. These people need us much more than we need them.” Or that he missed Trump’s recent call for tougher sanctions against Russia. Mr. Putin has a very good memory, and he remembers everyone who ever tried to humiliate him.

Both Trump and Putin are tough pragmatists: they are used to operating around concepts of results, success and profit. This can help them to find a field of mutually beneficial, purified-from-ideology foreign policy cooperation. Nowadays, Mr. Trump says some things quite acceptable for Putin, regarding at least three important foreign policy issues: the need for dialogue and constructive relations between Russia and the United States, the negative consequences of military intervention in Iraq, and the war against the Islamic State. Of course, Putin may consider all constructive proposals from Trump in terms of pragmatic cooperation, if it gives him a certain foreign policy or economic benefit. Why not?

The most serious problem for Mr. Trump is his terrible inexperience in the field of foreign, and especially military, policy. The sophisticated Putin is very experienced at using his opponents’ mistakes, and he will certainly be glad to have a new “easy target.” He will use every miscalculation, every roughness, admitted by dilettante Trump to his advantage. Trump likes to be “l’enfant terrible” in the presidential race. Putin like this element of Trump’s nature as well, particularly the first word: enfant.

Ben Carson: The voters like this prominent neurosurgeon, who successfully separated Siamese twins who had conjoined brains and spinal cords. He knows how to say complicated things simply and clearly, he creates the impression of a calm and reasonable man, and he is always in a good mood. Looking at him today, it is difficult to believe that during childhood, he had violent tendencies. He got angry at his mother for criticizing his choice of T-shirt, and he hit her on the head with a hammer and stabbed one of his best friends at school. Fortunately, the knife ran into the belt buckle and did not hurt the boy. According to Mr. Carson, after he turned to God, he learned self-control. However, psychologists are well aware that aggression, while pounded inside, will – as a rule – someday reappear.

Many of Carson’s psychological traits are expressed much more strongly or much more weakly than the other candidates’. Among the candidates, Mr. Carson has the strongest need for achievement, the strongest sense of suspicion and the strongest need to implement his own desires. He is also seeking less power than the other candidates, even though he really wants it. Mr. Carson has a strong appetite for dominance and risk, although he is very rational. He has high level of self-esteem. He can be described as an ambitious person, and this is understandable. He is accustomed to a high level of achievement and deserved recognition — in many ways, it is based on a personal conviction of the need to make the right choice. And if, in his professional and personal life, the scope of this “right” choice is clearly defined, it will be more complicated for him in the political sphere.

Mr. Carson rarely uses specific and accurate information, preferring to use general arguments where foreign policy – which is not a topic with which he has much competence – is concerned. When he uses facts in his speeches, it sometime results in embarrassing situations. For example, Mr. Carson explains the connection between Putin and the leaders of the Middle East as follows: “He has longstanding relationships down there. Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, were both classmates in the class of 1968 at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow where they became acquainted with a young Vladimir Putin. So these are deep ties.” It is necessary to mention, in 1968, Putin was in the 9th grade of high school in St. Petersburg, and moreover, there is no evidence Ali Khamenei attended the same university as Abbas.

Mr. Carson’s own political analysis seems highly professional: “That’s what I call wisdom,” Carson said. “You get these pieces of information. You talk to various people. You begin to have an overall picture. You begin to understand why people do what they do.”

Mr. Carson does not want to be seen as a weak and unprofessional politician. He is perhaps the only one of the candidates who has openly said that, if it is necessary to fight Russia, he is ready to lead the United States into that fight. Not one of the other candidates has said the same words. Not one.

However, for Mr. Carson, those words are not a figure of speech. He is a really tough and determined individual, and if he decides it is time to act militarily, relying on his picture of the world, he is quite able to make such a decision. The main question is whether this picture of the world will correspond with reality. Where in his thought process is that part responsible for “consequences,” and to what extent is he familiar with the concept of “nuclear war”?

Marco Rubio: Mr. Rubio grew up in a low-income family of Cuban immigrants. His father was a bartender, and his mother was a maid. Mr. Rubio knows what it’s like to be in challenging circumstances and always mentions this when he addresses voters. Mr. Rubio is friendly and has a boyish smile. He is not only an effective senator, but also a professor of political science at Florida International University. Mr. Rubio does not want just to have power, he consciously strives for the position of president, skillfully interacting with the electorate and establishment.

Mr. Rubio is liable to adventurism, he easily adapts to new conditions, and he is not afraid to take a risk. He has changed his religious views four times during his life: Catholic, Mormon, Baptist and again Catholic. He had problems with the misuse of the party’s finances twice. He was also exposed as a liar when he said, in his biography, his parents are refugees from the Castro regime. However, when it became clear that his parents arrived in Miami in 1956 – three years before the Cuban Revolution – the smart Rubio explained that “to be a refugee” is a state of mind, not a question of timing.

Mr. Rubio is a strong analyst and very accurately describes the motives of Putin’s foreign policy, which are to restore the bipolar world, to determine Russia’s place in it and to restore Russia’s superpower status.

Mr. Rubio has a clear view of how to achieve political success. He needs support and encouragement. If he sees the usefulness of cooperation with Putin on certain issues, both for the U.S. and himself personally, no matter what, he will cooperate with Russia, while incorporating all his charm and communication skills.

Mr. Rubio is not a person of conflict; conflict situations are unpleasant for him, and he feels uncomfortable in a state of enmity. Although he is very suspicious, and his foreign policy beliefs are quite militant, for him, a lean compromise is better than a fat lawsuit. Also, he can analyze the long-term effects — he is able to look toward future situations and see additional options. If he is elected, he will not be the most difficult partner for Vladimir Putin.

Ted Cruz: Even though Ted Cruz is also considered a candidate of Cuban origin, from his dad, his mom has Italian and Irish family roots. Although Cruz’s family didn’t have financial issues, he still did not have an entirely happy childhood, and not only because of the separation and later reunion of his parents. His father is a preacher, and a clever and cruel manipulator. He has always had a powerful influence on Ted Cruz; he always made him obey to his will, and he still does this nowadays. The worldview of the newborn Christian was formed largely by his father’s education. Mr. Cruz’s fusion of conservative religious and political beliefs creates a “Crusader syndrome.”

Even though Mr. Cruz has the highest need for power among the candidates, his need for it is not as much for himself as it is for accomplishing his mission. He is truly eager to revive the American spirit and sense of purpose within the scope of Reagan’s philosophy. But there is a fundamental psychological difference between them: Ronald Reagan, Cruz’s idol, was a quiet man, despite his formidable rhetoric, and like people said, he had “peace in his heart.”

Mr. Cruz is exactly the opposite; he is in the conflict with the world, including the establishment and even his own party. He attacks his opponents, burns down bridges and does not regret these actions. Mr. Cruz is a dominant, dramatic, prone-to-risk and ambitious politician. A lot of psychologists have also noted he has signs of narcissistic disorder. He is naturally very thin-skinned and vulnerable, like a typical narcissus. Among all the candidates, he is the least suspicious — only nine times more than other people. Mr. Cruz is always anxious, alert and ready for battle.

As a qualified lawyer and brilliant orator, he is ready to start a considerable controversy with any leader, regardless of authority or power. He is negative toward Putin, and the only thing that could induce him to cooperate with him would be a common threat. Mr. Cruz will be ready to cooperate with Mr. Putin only within the scope of fighting against a common threat. Mr. Cruz would likely be the most difficult partner for Mr. Putin and also the most sincere opponent.

Hillary Clinton: Mrs. Clinton is the only real candidate from the Democratic Party, even though Bernie Sanders is a worthy adversary. Hillary Clinton, among all the candidates, is the most experienced politician and most prepared for the presidency. She is also the main “macho” in the political race.

Hillary Clinton was born an adult, according to her mother. Her father was authoritarian, stingy and cold toward children. Success was the only thing that could attract her father’s attention, just like in Mr. Trump’s case. At the same time, even Mrs. Clinton’s excellent grades at school were taken for granted by her father.

Mrs. Clinton has been a perfectionist since childhood, and she is always characterized by thoroughness in everything she does. As a politician, she carefully examines the situation and makes decisions based on cold calculations. However, she is disposed to take risks. Due to her natural competitiveness and self-confidence, Mrs. Clinton often refers to politics as a zero-sum game. She does not consider compromise to be something ordinary, although in some cases, she will consider it acceptable.

Mrs. Clinton tries to control everything, to hold everything in her hands and to dominate. She has a lot of courage, determination and a willingness to jump into the fray if she decides this is the only way to win. Mrs. Clinton is quite distrustful; it is difficult to change her point of view because she is convinced in her rectitude. Her belief system is not flexible, although she is capable of changing her point of view when exposed to new circumstances. She perfectly copes with a huge amount of information and small details; she had great input in many of the political and foreign policy decisions of President [Bill] Clinton. Hillary Clinton will be a difficult partner for Mr. Putin. She criticizes his identity, in particular by comparing him with Hitler. Putin does not let such things pass. She noted the deterioration of relations with Mr. Putin and the killing of Osama bin Laden as two of her major achievements as a secretary of state. Even though this was possibly a joke, it still shows her attitude toward Mr. Putin. However, as an experienced politician, she does not exclude the possibly of cooperation with Mr. Putin for national security interests and in the face of a serious threat. She is internally ready to reduce the degree of confrontation, and her experience and knowledge may outweigh her fighting instincts.

Unfortunately, Jeb Bush, who could become an effective, balanced and capable president, is not likely to be nominated by the Republican Party. He is not quite suitable for such electoral activity, even though he is a thoughtful, well-educated and quiet introvert. Jeb Bush is more like his father than his brother. He would have become a worthy leader and partner for the leaders of many other countries, even for Putin. Due to the fact he is probably not going to be elected, an easy cooperation with any of the other candidates is not likely. Also, unfortunately, in most cases the quality of U.S.- Russia cooperation depends on the quality of the common enemy.

Ekaterina Egorova: PhD, President of ASC Nikkolo M**

Elizaveta Egorova: PhD, Director of Political Profiler

The study was conducted with the participation of Ken Feltman, head of Radnor Inc.

* Editor’s Note: The original quotations, accurately translated, could not be verified.

** Translator’s Note: The Agency of Strategic Communications “Nikkolo M” is the first Russian PR company; it was founded in April 1989 as The Centre of Political Consulting and Professional Consulting Agency.

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