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Putin's Most Useful Idiot
Plus: Rick Scott's gift to the Democrats
We have a lot of ground to cover this morning, but, we really have to start with this.
“Former president Donald Trump on Tuesday hailed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move to recognize two breakaway regions of Ukraine and deploy troops into the rebel-held territory as ‘genius.’”
Gobsmacking? Well, yes, and no.
The former president’s flattery of the Russian thug — which came as the real president and our European allies announced the first tranche of sanctions in response to Putin’s aggression — was a shocking display of groveling appeasement.
But, at the same time, his lavish praise for the man who assassinates his opponents, jails his critics, commits war crimes, and engages in active measures against the United States is exactly what we have come to expect from the man who once sat in the Oval Office.
So it’s easy to be numbed by it. But don’t be. This is what Trump said yesterday on the (checks notes) Clay & Buck Show. Take a moment to read it out loud to a loved one, your dog, or yourself.
BUCK: What went wrong here? What has the current occupant of the Oval Office done that he could have done differently?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, what went wrong was a rigged election and what went wrong is a candidate that shouldn’t be there and a man that has no concept of what he’s doing. I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, “This is genius.” Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful.
So, Putin is now saying, “It’s independent,” a large section of Ukraine. I said, “How smart is that?” And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force… We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right. No, but think of it. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy… I know him very well. Very, very well.
As you might expect, the GOP response was virtually non-existent, except for the redoubtable Liz Cheney:
The Biden White House snapped back, as well:
“As a matter of policy, we try not to take advice from anyone who praises President Putin and his military strategy, which I believe is what happened there,” [White House Press Secretary Jen] Psaki said. “So there’s a bit of a different tactic. … And that’s probably why President Biden and not his predecessor was able to rally the world and the global community and taking steps against Russia’s aggression.”
Some Flashbacks of Appeasement
As you all know, Trump’s fawning over Putin is nothing new. But let’s review the tape anyway.
Here’s a pre-presidential Trump in 2013, reacting to an op-ed piece that Putin had just published in The New York Times.
Trump tweeted: “Putin's letter is a masterpiece for Russia and a disaster for the U.S. He is lecturing to our president. Never has our country looked so weak."
Afterward he appeared on Fox News to expand on his praise.
TRUMP: Well, I think it makes Putin look extremely diplomatic. And you know, they talk all about his dogmatic ways and his toughness, but it actually makes him sound very reasoned and very reasoning. And frankly, I don't know that he wrote the letter. Certainly, there were his ideas. But the way it was crafted was very, very interesting. And it really is talking down to the president. There's no question about that.
And he had some thoughts about “American exceptionalism” even back then:
TRUMP: Well, absolutely amazing that he did that. And certainly, it's getting play all over the world. And it really makes him look like a great leader, frankly.
And when he criticizes the president for using the term "American exceptionalism," if you're in Russia, you don't want to hear that America is exceptional. And if you're in many other countries, whether it's Germany or other places, you don't want to hear about American exceptionalism because you think you're exceptional. So I can see that being very insulting to the world.
And that's basically what Putin was saying is that, you know, you use a term like "American exceptionalism," and frankly, the way our country is being treated right now by Russia and Syria and lots of other places and with all the mistakes we've made over the years, like Iraq and so many others, it's sort of a hard term to use.
But other nations and other countries don't want hear about American exceptionalism. They're insulted by it. And that's what Putin was saying.
And who could forget this, from 2017?
President Donald Trump appeared to equate US actions with the authoritarian regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview released Saturday, saying, “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?”
Trump made the remark during an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, saying he respected his Russian counterpart.
“But he’s a killer,” O’Reilly said to Trump.
“There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” Trump replied.
It was an unusual assertion coming from the President of the United States. Trump himself, however, has made similar points before.
“He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Trump told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in December 2015.
He continued, “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing, a lot of stupidity,” Trump said.
In 1990, during an interview with Playboy magazine he mentioned that he was "very unimpressed" with the Soviet Union, because its Communist rulers were not oppressive enough.
"Their system is a disaster," Trump said. "What you will see there soon is a revolution; the signs are all there with the demonstrations and picketing. Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That's my problem with [former Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand."
Trump was then asked if he meant "firm hand as in China."
"When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength," Trump replied. "That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak...as being spit on by the rest of the world."
As Business Insider noted: “On June 4, 1989, after several weeks of pro-democracy and pro-reform demonstrations, Chinese troops entered Tiananmen Square in Beijing and fired on unarmed people. Hundreds, possibly thousands, were killed.”
Exit take: We haven’t even talked about Helsinki.
Bonus: Who’s the puppet?
Rick Scott’s Big Ideas
Mitch McConnell didn’t want the GOP to come out with any sort of an agenda this year, and now we know why.
Florida Senator Rick Scott, who is the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is out with a 31-page campaign blueprint that is, um, really something. It includes this: “We will secure our border, finish building the wall, and name it after President Donald Trump.”
And stuff like this:
Whatever that means.
Scott’s blueprint also is heavy on anti-anti-racism rhetoric and gestures.
Police reform? Fuhgeddaboudit.
In other words, it’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from a party that had no actual platform in 2020, is decisively post-policy, and whose base seems uninterested in actual governance. So we get warmed-over hyped-up memes dressed up as policy proposals. In contrast, Newt’s 1994 Contract With American reads like the Magna Carta.
But, here’s the real killer:
All of this, writes Josh Barro, is a huge gift to Democrats.
Liberals on Twitter will mostly notice the culture-war content of the document, and they may underestimate the strength of the political ground that Republicans stand on with many of those issues. But the big opportunity for Democrats — and the potential wrench in McConnell’s campaign strategy — lies in a short statement about taxes: “All Americans should pay income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount.”
In a typical year, nearly half of American tax filers have no federal income tax liability. A promise to make all Americans pay federal income tax is a promise to raise taxes on well over one hundred million people.
To seek to raise taxes on poor and middle-class people would be a terrible mistake. The idea is bound to be unpopular. And it would alter the character of conservatism for the worse. A desire to cut taxes for people at all income levels, and to oppose tax increases at all income levels, was key to associating conservatism with the diffusion of opportunity in the Reagan years and after.
Do the Democrats get it? Yes, they do.
By the way…
1. No, the Canadian Trucker Protests Are Not Comparable to Jan. 6th
What happened in Ottawa is a bad sign—for Canada. But it exists in a Canadian context, not an American one. It is not another Jan. 6th—the governance structure of Canada, the political moment in Canada, the nature of society in Canada prevents that. No amount of American right-wing salivating at the prospect will change that. No, right-wing calls to invade Canada—that’s a real thing from Candace Owens—will not come to fruition. And no, the Canadian far right is not going to overthrow the country and come down to help out Trump and QAnon. The Canadian government cracked down. Counter-protesters pushed back against the Freedom Convoys, too.
2. The ‘Freedom Convoys’ and the Old Dreams of an American Revolution in Canada
It’s worth remembering that there is a long history of Americans supporting radical Canadian movements that seem to have some ideological or rhetorical overlap with movements or factions in American politics. Despite failed attempts to invade Canada during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, dreams of a union between the two countries, or at least twin republics free of British rule, have always held allure for an imaginative few in the United States, and Canadian revolutionaries have always held a special place in the hearts of some.