Trump praises Putin, puts Republicans in a bind

As Russia prepares to attack Ukraine and the United States rushes to defend its neighboring allies in Europe, former President Donald J. Trump has nothing but admiration for Russian President Putin.

He’s “quite smart,” Trump said Wednesday at a fundraiser in Florida, valuing the impending invasion like a real estate deal. “He took over a country for $2 worth of sanctions,” he said, “taking over a country — really a big, huge position, a wonderful piece of land with so many lots of people – and you just have to walk in.”

Historians call the comment unprecedented. “The idea that a former president would praise the man or leader the US military is even journeying to confront,” said Jeffrey Engel, a presidential historian at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. and restraint”.

Still, Republican leaders, while condemning the invasion of Ukraine, kept quiet about the former president’s repeated praise of Putin this week, even as some allies Trump’s campaign – from former administration figures to Fox News host Tucker Carlson – amplified his Russian-core friendly views of the party.

Foreign policy experts and Russian academics say the apparent sympathy or conflict with Moscow from right-wing elements has raised questions about the influence Mr. the candidate seeks to exploit his base, the legacy of the Kremlin’s decade-long drive against American conservatives and the future of the GOP amid a backlash against entanglements set by the Party Republican leadership in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Historians say Cold War Republicans would dismiss comments like Mr Trump being non-American. Anders Stephanson, a foreign policy historian at Columbia University, recalls the previous Russian invasion. “Can one imagine Dwight Eisenhower praising Leonid Brezshnev for invading Czechoslovakia in 1968?” he asked in an email. “I think not.”

Republican leaders on Thursday shied away from Putin-friendly stances that stemmed from the former president. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, denounced Putin and urged the Biden administration to provide military aid to help the Ukrainians fight back. Asked at a news conference in Louisville about Mr. Trump’s comments, the senator responded with silence.

As the threat of a Russian invasion grows, Mike Pompeo, a former secretary of state and CIA director under Mr Trump, and now a potential presidential aspirant, seems to have a similar view to his boss. his old. Mr Putin is “a classy, ​​sophisticated partner” and “very wise”, Mr. Pompeo said.

But as the Russian onslaught drew near, Mr. Pompeo on Wednesday proved those points. Mr. Putin is also “evil” and “should be crushed,” he told The Des Moines Register during a visit to Iowa.

Other Republicans around the country who are closest to the party’s base – House members and primaries – often seek to deflect questions about their stance on Ukraine with answers that avoid breaking with Mr. Trump or agreeing with President Biden. A Republican chorus is arguing that the White House is more worried about a conflict than about illegal immigration.

“Why is Joe Biden more interested in the border of Ukraine than the southern border of the United States?” The official Republican minority Twitter account of the House Judiciary Committee made the statement on Wednesday.

Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, last week took a step toward pro-Trump base and away from the Republican leadership, arguing that NATO should placate Russia by refraining from expanding membership. to Ukraine.

“My view is that China is our number one economic and security threat,” Hawley said in an interview last week. “This is what makes me very skeptical of an expansion. I do not think we are qualified, both literally and in the usual usage of that term, to expand our security commitments in Europe. “

But on Thursday, Mr Hawley took the lead in urging Mr Biden to send military equipment to Ukraine and “forbid Russian energy production from shutting down”.

Meanwhile, the former president’s allies in the conservative media have turned his praise of Putin into a more complete argument against the invasion of Ukraine. Tucker Carlson repeated Kremlin talking points so closely that his audio clips became a topic of Russian state television.

Mr. Carlson, a man who opposed American adventurism after the Iraq war, has openly questioned US commitments to Ukraine since Mr. Trump was first impeached, when the former president was allegedly withheld military aid to Ukraine to pressure officials. there to investigate Mr. Biden and his family.

“What is this really about?” Mr. Carlson asked this week about the Biden administration’s condemnation of Russia. He answered himself with a series of questions inviting listeners to direct their anger at American libertarians or China instead. “Did Putin ever call me a racist?” Mr. Carlson asked, adding, “Did he create a worldwide pandemic?”

“Nobody on this show supports Putin,” Mr. Carlson sought to clarify on Wednesday, “or supports the Ukrainians on that matter.”

We always strive for peace.

Andrew S. Weiss, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the Kremlin has sought for a decade to win US rights allies, in part by denouncing gay rights. , emphasized Russia’s support for conservative social norms and invited visits from prominent evangelical figures such as Franklin Graham.

“It works beautifully,” Mr. Weiss said.

Stephen K. Bannon, a former Trump adviser who hosts a popular conservative podcast, alluded this week to the success of those efforts. “Putin doesn’t wake up – he resists waking,” Bannon agreed on Wednesday. He was interviewing Erik Prince, the private security contractor and member of a prominent family of Protestants and Republican donors, who joined Mr. Bannon in praising the country. Russia opposes transgender rights.

On Thursday, Mr. Bannon argued that Congress should impeach Biden for “inciting this war in Ukraine.”

“There’s no sense of self-defense in Europe, okay?” Mr. Bannon said. “Now you’ve gone in and stirred up the wasp nest.”

Hal Brands, a historian at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, compared the apparent sympathy for Russia among some in the world. right-wingers with eras before political fringe groups viewed foreign opponents as the bad guys. against domestic competitors.

For example, in the years before the United States entered World War II, a handful of lawmakers praised Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini for their strong leadership. He notes that during the early years of the Cold War, some on the far left espoused the Soviet Union as an alternative to unbridled capitalism.

“Russia is a country that advocates against sobriety,” he said.

But some people’s current “passion for Putin” on the right, he added, “is also encapsulated in post-Trump sweepstakes.”

“You see a lot of competition going on between politicians who may or may not be really Trumpian to claim that part of the party base for their own political ambitions.”

Nicholas Confessore contributed reporting. Trump praises Putin, puts Republicans in a bind

Fry Electronics Team

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