As the horrors inflicted by Russia on Ukraine continue to sicken the world, I think it’s a good idea to take a look at how up until very recently, Republicans and the Russia of Vladimir Putin seemed to be growing more and more similar.
While Holding-Onto-a-Shred-of-Decency Republican Mitt Romney referred to Putin’s Russia as America’s biggest adversary during the 2012 presidential campaign, the next Republican candidate, as you well know, didn’t hold such a view. Donald Trump’s outright love of Putin was obvious, of course. Even begging him to help with the election, right out in the open.
But Trump wasn’t alone.
In the last decade, elements of the American conservative movement became more and more friendly with Putin, bonding over guns and religion. Things happened like Franklin Graham meeting with Putin, and as the Washington Post article I linked to mentions, Graham got along famously with Putin.
In 2019, Atlantic scribe Anne Applebaum wrote about how the far-right, who has a much bigger influence in the American political system than say the far-left, sees Russia and Putin as fighting a sort of holy war, “standing up for traditional values against Western cultural elites” as Pat Buchanan put it.
And even with the invasion of Ukraine, there are still those on the right who are cheerleading for Putin. Trump being Trump, he at first referred to Putin as a “genius” and called the invasion “savvy,” but since he has been all over the place about it. Tucker Carlson has been Putin’s biggest fanboy, and an *elected official*, Creepy U.S. Congresscritter Madison Cawthorn has been called out by his own party (finally!) for being so pro-Putin he is being used as pro-war propaganda by the Russians.
Recently, rank and file Republicans have still demonstrated they like Putin more than Biden. While the horrors happening in Ukraine has diminished the GOP’s love of Putin, it’s hard not to be skeptical that this new-found condemnation of Putin will continue.
After all, after January 6, we went from most GOP leaders condemning the violence to the same people blocking investigations and officially declaring that trying to crush police officers and smearing feces on the walls of the Capitol Building is legitimate political discourse. Why wouldn’t they go back to declaring Putin is a strong leader?
Even the war itself has some parallels to American conservatism. While our Iraq War II efforts didn’t get bogged down at first like the Russians are in Ukraine, the war was based on false ideas and premises. In both cases, neither the Russians nor the Americans were welcomed as liberators. False assumptions about the people being invaded are apparent and ended up in a disaster for both nations. In both cases, dissenting views were totally ignored by the right-wing people in charge.
Putin has also embraced the conservative moment’s use of “cancel culture.” Last year, Putin sounded very much like a conservative Republican during a rant about cancel culture, right down to the anti-transgender verbiage. Russians referred to sanctions levied by Western nations for the invasion as “cancel culture.”
Democrats should not be shy about bringing any of this up. It’s not just political opportunism, it’s downright alarming.
The last word goes to the band Villagers. “So simpatico, you are, the one for me” is the song the American far-right has been singing for a long time now to Putin, and I have doubts that their new-found aversion to the strongman will last.