Will GOP-leaning foreign policy voters pass on Trump?
© Getty Images

With less than a week to go until the Election Day, there is great uncertainty looming over the future of the United States. However, one thing is crystal clear.

Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump official and TV surrogate leaving White House: reports Biden: I regret not being president De Blasio blames Trump for 'dynamic of hatred' in US MORE's foreign policy views are unprecedented for a Republican nominee.

ADVERTISEMENT
In recent months, his rhetoric over the obsolescence of NATO and his seeming affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin managed not only to divide the party's leadership, but also caused considerable havoc within the party's electorate.

As a result, populations claiming Eastern-European heritage — who represent a key vote in many swing states — may abandon their Republican traditions and end up choosing Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonComet Ping Pong shooter pleads guilty Time for 'J. Edgar' Comey to take his leave Corruption trial could roil NJ Senate race MORE as their next commander-in-chief.

In the United States, there are at least 20 million Americans of Central and Eastern European descent and of those, 12 million individuals trace back their ancestries to the Baltic States, Poland and Ukraine. They live predominantly in key swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Despite the fact that they may have diverging views on a number of domestic issues, most of them share the same trait of being more much sensitive to foreign policy topics than the average American voter.

Furthermore, these Eastern-European Americans generally share two other features: uncompromising support for international organizations like NATO and hostility toward Putin and his increasingly hawkish foreign policy in Europe.

Although historically, these foreign policy voters were not always avid supporters of the GOP, political developments in Europe were closely linked with their voting preferences. For example, in the early 20th-century, the Lithuanian-American immigrant community was mostly urban and working-class, and as a result, many aligned themselves with the Democratic Party.

However, following the Yalta Conference of 1945, which extended Soviet territories west and allowed Moscow to dramatically increase its sphere of influence, many of these Lithuanian-Americans, along with other Baltic-Americans, felt betrayed by the Democrats.

As a result, a great many of them pledged their support to the Republicans, who traditionally harbored strong anti-communist sentiments.

This migration of foreign policy voters from the Democrats to the Republicans further intensified in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan. His harsh rhetoric toward the Kremlin and unyielding support for independence movements throughout the Soviet bloc ensured that in the years to come, many of the Eastern European diasporas in swing states would go red rather than blue.

However, Trump is likely to end this pattern. When he told The New York Times that, if elected, he would not automatically come to the aid of NATO allies such as the Baltic States if they came under Russian attack, he raised alarm bells not only throughout the region, but also among other Central and Eastern European diasporas.

Organizations like the Joint Baltic American National Committee quickly issued statements noting that the transatlantic ties between Washington and Baltic States must be further strengthened and not abandoned. Other European-American communities have also made similar calls.

Trump's statement contrasted greatly with Clinton's position. Throughout her career, the former secretary of State has demonstrated unwavering support for NATO and advocated American leadership in global affairs.

In a speech held at Stanford University, she made the unambiguous statement that "NATO, in particular, is one of the best investments America has ever made."

Furthermore, unlike Trump, who continuously downplays Russia's threat and even demonstrated admiration toward Putin, Clinton has made her position on Russia's aggressiveness crystal clear.

Two years ago, when referring to Russia's military incursion into Ukraine, the Clinton noted that:

"This is a clash of values, and it's an effort by Putin to rewrite the boundaries of post-World War II Europe. If he's allowed to get away with that, then I think you'll see a lot of other countries, either directly facing Russian aggression or suborned with their political systems."

Hence, given the radically opposing views of Trump and Clinton over the significance of organizations like NATO and the threat of Russia, it is not inconceivable that this year's presidential election might result in a political realignment of Americans of Eastern European descent.

History might repeat itself, because just like 71 years ago when a great number of Americans of Eastern European descent felt betrayed by the Democrats over their dovish stance vis-a-vis Moscow, now they might feel similarly about the current GOP nominee.

As a result, the pendulum might swing back and on Nov. 8, the foreign policy voters could pick Hillary Clinton as their next President.

Grigas is the author of "The New Geopolitics of Natural Gas" (Harvard University Press, 2017) and "Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire" (Yale University Press, 2016). Follow her on Twitter @AgniaGrigas.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.