Listening to Donald Trump feels like déjà vu. The Republican Party candidates sound eerily like Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose party -- the far-right wing Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), possibly the most inaptly named political entity of all time -- won 23 percent of the popular vote in December 1993, more than any other party competing for seats in the Russian Parliament.
In October 1993, Russian President Boris Yeltsin had ordered his country's Parliament shelled as a way of ending the standoff between himself and the communists and nationalists holed up inside. Given that the Clausewitzian boundary between war and politics had apparently disintegrated (the fire-blackened face of the former Parliament building in central Moscow testified to this), a lot of Russians at that time had liked the idea of voting for a party with no political experience. The LDPR were seen as outsiders, to their credit (although Alexander Yakovlev, a senior advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev, later claimed that the Soviet Communist Party had funded the LDPR's initial incarnation in 1991 with support from the head of the KGB).
The LDPR party head, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, could be mistaken for a composite character made of several of the current Republican candidates for president. Variously perceived as a clown, an entertainer and a fascist, Zhirinovsky provided a platform of fantasies, crude sexual references and vituperative ultra-nationalism. In an early speech, Zhirinovsky voiced his desire for the restoration of the Russian empire and hoped that Russian soldiers would soon "wash their boots in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean."
Variously perceived as a clown, an entertainer and a fascist, Zhirinovsky provided a platform of fantasies, crude sexual references and vituperative ultra-nationalism.
In a September 1993 pamphlet, Zhirinovsky claimed that "Russia" signified the territory of the entire Eurasian continent. He also pledged to plant nuclear waste at the Russian-Baltic border and set up giant fans to blow the radioactivity into the tiny but traitorous countries that had made clear their desire to be free of Russian control. When asked what the LDPR's platform was on women's issues, Zhirinovsky responded that his party would provide a "guy for every broad."
Zhirinovsky expressed these ideas in a way that people thought signified his sincerity and commitment to the best interests of the populace. His utter lack of political tact, combined with a tendency to spout fantasy as if it were policy (proposing, for example, that Russia could sell its young women's virginity to foreigners as a means of improving the national balance sheet), was apparently appealing at a time when honest political debate over the pressing questions of the day seemed like the last thing any serious candidate wanted to discuss. No sense in discussing the tough stuff, such as what to do about the floundering economy, the collapse of social welfare and the deep popular divide over these issues. Instead, he turned ignorance into a virtue and shockingly offensive jingoism into a selling point.
Does this sound familiar?
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson thinks that 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. should be put to work until they pay off their debt to society -- as guest laborers, and that their mass deportation was also "worth discussing." Carly Fiorina said if she were in charge, she'd "conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic States" (military exercises are already held annually in the region) and send thousands of soldiers to Germany to show Vladimir Putin who's boss. (Maybe she'd be interested in setting up some fans on the Baltic side of the border, too?)
Zhirinovsky turned ignorance into a virtue and shockingly offensive jingoism into a selling point.
Hearing U.S. citizens talk about how much they like Donald's straightforward, "shoot from the hip" style and his disregard for "political correctness," or how much they relish the idea of electing a "Washington outsider," a president who isn't a politician and who doesn't know Hamas from Hezbollah, I couldn't help but think about those Russia elections in 1993.
Like Zhirinovsky, Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are right-wingers with no office-holding experience, who make phantasmagorical claims and, in doing so, get more popular support, not less.
Unlike Zhirinovsky, however, Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina are members of one of the two major, long-standing parties in the U.S.
Look out. These people could win for real.