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The GOP Is the Party of Putin

Mona Charen on

"Russian propaganda has made its way into the United States, unfortunately, and it's infected a good chunk of my party's base." That acknowledgement from Michael McCaul, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was echoed a few days later by Michael Turner, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. "To the extent that this propaganda takes hold, it makes it more difficult for us to really see this as an authoritarian versus democracy battle."

It has been two months since the Senate passed, by 70-29 (including 22 Republicans), a $95 billion foreign aid bill that included $60 billion for Ukraine. The Republican-controlled House, by contrast, has been paralyzed. This week, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that Ukraine will lose the war if the aid is not approved.

The Republican party is now poised to let a brave, democratic ally be defeated by the power that the last GOP presidential nominee save one called "without question, our No. 1 geopolitical foe." One member of Congress has sworn to introduce a resolution to vacate the chair if the House speaker puts aid for Ukraine on the floor, and the entertainment wing of conservatism -- most egregiously Tucker Carlson -- has gone into full truckling mode toward the ex-KGB colonel in the Kremlin.

It's worth exploring how the Republican party, the party of "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," became the party that now credulously traffics in blatant Russian disinformation while it flirts with betraying an important ally -- along with all of its principles.

Trump's particular preferences and ego needs play a starring role in the GOP's devolution. Cast your minds back to 2016 and the revelation that the Russians had hacked the Democratic National Committee. To rebut this damaging development, Fox News conjurers got busy inventing a tale about CrowdStrike, the company that documented the hack, alleging that the servers had been mysteriously moved to Ukraine so that the FBI could not examine them. Trump raised the CrowdStrike issue in his infamous call with Zelenskyy.

This was bonkers. As the Mueller report made clear, the FBI did get all the data regarding the DNC hack. There was never a shred of evidence that the servers were moved to Ukraine, and in any case physical control of the servers was unnecessary. But what was Zelensky supposed to say? He promised to look into it just as a courtier to a mad king will say, "Yes, your majesty, we will look into why your slippers are turning into marshmallows when the sun goes down."

Because Trump regarded any implication that he had received assistance from Russia as impugning his victory, he latched onto the idea (perhaps whispered by Putin himself in one of their many private conversations) that, yes, there had indeed been foreign interference in the election, but it was Ukraine boosting Hillary Clinton, not Russia aiding Trump. Now, it's true that Ukraine's friends reached out to Clinton, but why wouldn't they? Trump's campaign manager was Paul Manafort, a paid agent of Viktor Yanukovych, the ousted pro-Putin Ukrainian leader.

Trump nurtured his misplaced grudge for years. Recall that when Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Trump's initial response was that it was a "genius" move. "You gotta say, that's pretty savvy."

 

A non-sociopath would say it was raw aggression of the worst kind. A normal Republican of the pre-Trump mold would have been outraged at the attempted rape of a peaceful, democratic neighbor.

Most Republican officeholders are not sociopaths, but they take their marching orders from one and have adjusted their consciences accordingly. The talking point Sen. J.D. Vance and his ilk favor is that they cannot be concerned about Ukraine's border when our southern border is also being invaded. Of course it's absurd to compare immigrants looking for work or safety to tanks, bombs and missiles, but that's what passes for Republican reasoning these days. In any case, it was revealed to be hollow when Biden and the Democrats offered an extremely strict border bill to sweeten aid for Ukraine, and the GOP turned it down flat.

Russia's fingerprints are all over the Republicans' failed attempt to impeach (in all senses of the word) Joe Biden. Their star witness, Alexander Smirnov -- who alleged that Hunter and Joe Biden had been paid $5 million in bribes by Burisma -- was indicted in February for making false statements. High-ranking Russians appear to be his sources.

Whether the subject is Ukraine, Biden's so-called corruption, or NATO, Putin seems to have pulled off the most successful foreign influence operation in American history. If Trump were being blackmailed by Putin, it's hard to imagine how he would behave any differently. And though it started with Trump, it has not ended there. Putin now wields more power over the GOP than anyone other than Trump. GOP propagandists indulge fictions that even many Russians can see through: Ukraine is governed by Nazis; Russia is a religious, Christian nation; Russia is fighting "wokeness."

Republicans are not so much isolationist as pro-authoritarian. They've made Hungary's Viktor Orban a pin-up, and they mouth Russian disinformation without shame. Putin must be pinching himself.

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Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her new book, "Hard Right: The GOP's Drift Toward Extremism," is available now.


Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate Inc.

 

 

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