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Joe Biden and His Critics
Plus: Here come the secessionists.
“Symbols matter: a Kennedy or a Reagan at the Berlin Wall, a Churchill with a cigar and a bowler, for that matter a green-clad Zelensky growling, ‘I need ammunition, not a ride.’ Simply by taking the hazardous trip to Kyiv, Biden made a strategic move of cardinal importance.” — Eliot Cohen, the Atlantic
If you’re catching up from the long fake holiday weekend: This morning, Vladimir Putin delivered his State of the War speech, a batshit crazy firehose of falsehood; the yappy critics in the House GOP gnawed on the usual ankles; and while Joe Biden went to Kyiv, Ron DeSantis went on Fox & Friends.
Meanwhile, Marjorie Taylor Greene — a member of the Homeland Security Committee — decided this was a good moment to call for a national divorce between red and blue states.
As you know, I really don’t hate to say I told you so. This is from two years ago:
Biden and his critics
The visual contrast between an American president with his signature aviator sunglasses walking in sunny downtown Kyiv with the pugnacious and eloquent president of Ukraine and a Russian president who has yet to visit the war zone is also striking. Not to mention the difference between an American president who mingles with others, shaking hands, hugging and slapping backs, and a Russian president who keeps his subordinates at a physical distance, and who has to be surrounded by flunkies and actors when he supposedly meets with normal people. No belligerent words from the Kremlin will change those visual images, which will be seen in Russia as well as around the world.
This was not a stunt, but rather an act of statesmanship. Biden’s visit comes at a moment when much hangs in the balance. The Chinese have begun making noises about arming Russia, according to the United States government, which would be a very great change in this war. The Western allies, including the democracies of Asia, have begun mobilizing their military industries. The Russian offensives that were supposed to produce large gains timed to the anniversary of the invasion have instead carpeted the Donbas with the bodies of thousands of men who learned too late that, as one French World War I general put it, “fire kills.” And meanwhile, Ukraine is building up a force to use in its own counteroffensive.
Even National Review acknowledged that “Biden’s Secret Trip to Kyiv Took Guts,” declaring that his visit to wartime Kyiv “is an example of America in its finest tradition.”
But, but but… we also heard from the usual Useful Idiots. Before we get to DeSantis, there are several things to keep in mind, about Biden’s GOP critics.
There are no MAGA pacificists or antiwar doves.
A few are genuinely America First isolationists.
A few are pro-Putin, because they have a kink for authoritarian strongmen with a penchant for lying and brutality.
A lot of them are anti-Zelensky because they are pro-Trump.
They are all anti-Biden.
This, of course is the key: If they acknowledge that this is a just war and that Ukraine is the frontline in the struggle for democracy, the MAGA critics would also have to acknowledge that Volodymyr Zelensky is a Churchillian figure who has emerged as a symbol — if not the leader — of the Free World.
For TrumpWorld and its satellites this is impossible.
If Trump’s presidency was defined by his relationship with Putin, Biden’s presidency is increasingly defined by his relationship with Zelensky — the man Trump tried to shake down for political dirt.
Zelensky was at the center of Trump’s first impeachment trial. Now, he is side by side with Joe Biden, in the best moment of Biden’s presidency.
So you see the problem.
Which brings us to Ron DeSantis, who is desperately trying not to be outflanked on the MAGA right.
On Monday, the Florida governor made his foreign policy debut by (1) blaming Biden for the war, (2) ignoring Russian war crimes, and (3) downplaying Russia’s threat to the West.
It was as pathetic as it was utterly predictable.
I don’t think any of this would have happened, but for the weakness that the president showed during his first year in office, culminating, of course, in the disastrous withdrawal in Afghanistan. So I think while he’s over there, I think I, and many Americans, are thinking to ourselves, okay, “He’s very concerned about those borders halfway around the world. He’s not done anything to secure our own border here at home.” We’ve had millions and millions of people pour in, tens of thousands of Americans dead because of fentanyl, and then, of course, we just suffered a national humiliation of having China fly a spy balloon clear across the continental United States. So, we have a lot of problems accumulating here in our own country that he is neglecting.
Carpenter notes that DeSantis criticized Biden for supposedly having a “blank check policy” when it came to aiding the Ukrainians.
They have effectively a blank-check policy with no clear, strategic objective identified. And these things can escalate, and I don’t think it’s in our interests to be getting into a proxy war with China, getting involved over things like the borderlands or over Crimea. So, I think it would behoove them to identify what is the strategic objective that they’re trying to achieve, but just saying it’s an open-ended blank check, that is not acceptable.
She writes: “After questioning the supposed ‘objective’ in Ukraine, DeSantis then downplayed the threat of Russian aggression. In response to a question about what a ‘win’ would look like in Ukraine, DeSantis dodged and went in a different direction.” DeSantis said:
It’s important to point out the fear of Russia going into NATO countries and all of that and steamrolling that is not even come close to happening. I think they’ve shown themselves to be a third-rate military power. I think they’ve suffered tremendous, tremendous losses. I got to think that the people in Russia are probably disapproving of what’s going on. I don’t think they can speak up about it for obvious reasons, so I think Russia has been really, really wounded here. And I don’t think that they are the same threat to our country, even though they’re hostile. I don’t think they’re on the same level as a China.
The bottom line: “DeSantis has positioned himself on the wrong side of Ukraine because he thinks that opposing Biden, no matter what Biden does, is the only way to stay on the good side of MAGA voters. Even if that means turning a blind eye to the plight of the Ukrainians.”
BONUS: In today’s Bulwark, Eric Edelman, David J. Kramer, and Benjamin Parker write: “Moldova Is Putin’s Next Target.”
And then there is this: “Revealed: Leaked document shows how Russia plans to take over Belarus.”
Not a parody
Via Axios: “House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has given Fox News' Tucker Carlson exclusive access to 41,000 hours of Capitol surveillance footage from the Jan. 6 riot…”
I had some thoughts:
The Michigan State GOP Doubles Down on Losing
In today’s Bulwark, Jim Swift writes about the race for Michigan GOP chairman:
Kristina Karamo, a former community college instructor who allegedly tried to kill her husband, kids, and herself by crashing their car while her husband was driving, received Trump’s endorsement in her disastrous fall campaign. DePerno, who is facing the possibility of criminal charges for breaching voting machines in 2020, had Trump’s backing in the state party leadership race.
Can you guess which failed Trump endorsee Michigan Republicans chose?
If you guessed “the more extreme candidate who also lost their statewide race by a larger margin,” you guessed correctly: The Michigan state GOP’s new chairwoman is Kristina Karamo, an ardent disbeliever in QAnon who nonetheless spoke at one of their conferences. She even agrees with some of their most outrageous beliefs. Credit where it’s due, she apparently thinks, They might be wrong about JFK Jr. coming back, but they’re bang-on about elites drinking the blood of children to live longer.
President Trump congratulated her, calling her a “powerful and fearless Election Denier.” One gets the sense that when it comes to denying elections for the state GOP, Karamo has only just gotten started by losing her own.
Give us a listen
ICYMI: Monday’s podcast featured lively discussions of Biden’s visit to Kyiv, the Michigan GOP’s self-defenestration, the race for wisconsin State Supreme Court, and MTG’s call for a national divorce. You can listen here.
Update on the grifter wars
Project Veritas, the right-wing organization known for its undercover sting operations, has split with James O’Keefe, the group’s founder and chairman, following a bitter management dispute that pulled back the curtain on allegations of workplace misconduct and mismanagement of donor money.
The author of “In Trump We Trust” has had a revelation.