Flashback to July, 2018.
After the summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, this is what I wrote for the now-deceased Weekly Standard:
It seems only moments ago that Republicans derided Barack Obama’s “apology tour.” But that has been replaced by Donald Trump’s Groveling Tour, a peculiar combination of bullying our friends and fawning on our enemies. Monday’s summit seems destined to be recorded in the annals of diplomatic folly, with geopolitical consequences that will last far longer than our own frenetic attention spans.
What we have learned again is that at the heart of every truculent and strutting bully is a craven sycophant eager to cower before a bigger bully.
On Monday, Trump found that bigger bully and his cowering was the embarrassment heard round the world.
The president did not merely insult and dismiss members of his own administration (Dan Coats) and attack the institutions of his own government on foreign soil (the FBI and DoJ), he also demeaned his own country, all in order to curry favor with a bloody martinet, who is aggressively attacking us.
Consider this the context of today’s news. President Biden has agreed “in principle” to a summit with Putin, which may or may not avert a catastrophic war. We don’t know.
What we can know, however, is that Putin is fully aware that he faces a divided U.S., and that influential voices on the right have been channeling much of his own propaganda.
By now the cast of Putin’s useful idiots is familiar, ranging from Tucker Carlson and Josh Hawley to Candace Owens, MTG, and Maria Bartiromo.
Fiona Hill, the former senior director for Europe and Russia at the National Security Council, calls them "the ultimate stooges," but at least for now, these right wing voices do not speak for most congressional Republicans, who have tended to take a far more hawkish stance.
But Putin can be forgiven if he thinks his “conservative” allies represent the sentiment of MAGAWorld, coming as they do from some of Trump’s most loyal acolytes. And he may be especially emboldened if he believes that Trump himself may actually return to the Oval Office.
So these right wing shills matter. Here’s former NSC/White House aide expert Alexander Vindman:
Commenting on Vindman’s tweet, Garry Kasparov wrote: “What's most pathetic is that these Republicans are openly supporting a dictatorship that has attacked America. Putin openly treats the United States as an enemy, and they are doing his bidding in slandering Ukraine, his target.”
The loudest defender of the Kremlin’s view is, of course, the loudest voice in right wing media, Tucker Carlson, whose anti-Ukraine commentary has become a running feature of Russian State television.
"Vladimir Putin does not want Belgium,” explains Tucker. “He just wants to keep his western borders secure. That's why he doesn't want Ukraine to join NATO, and that makes sense."
As for Ukraine? "It's run by a dictator who's friends with everyone in Washington," Carlson said.
The Russian are, of course, thrilled.
Here he is with former Representative Tulsi Gabbard (who has become a fixture on the right), asking why Americans should want Ukraine to join NATO.
TULSI GABBARD: I've looked at this carefully, Tucker, and I have yet to find any benefit that a political leader has used or could use to justify this to the American people. All you hear is like, 'well we have to defend democracy. We have to defend this democratic country of Ukraine.'
But as you know, very well, this current [Ukranian] president, you know, shuts down, arrests political opposition, throws them in jail, shuts down TV stations that are critical to him. I have a hard time seeing how President Biden or anyone can say with an honest face, ‘we are defending democracy.’
Tucker is not the only voice on Fox News arguing that the focus on Ukraine-Russia is all a big distraction.
The conspiracy maven formerly known as the “money honey,” Maria Bartiromo, insists that the whole Ukraine-Russia threat has been fabricated to distract from (checks notes) Hillary Clinton.
“Was this a ruse?” she continued. “Was this whole thing an effort to take everybody’s attention away from what Hillary Clinton did and what we know to be a complete hoax over this Russia investigation?” After all, she continued, Sullivan worked for Clinton, and he had been involved in “peddling this Russia collusion lie.”
Laura Ingraham also tells her viewers that the whole thing is a distraction from the real crisis.
"Anyone paying attention to Biden's presser last week heard the sounds of the war-drums beating [as] the media desperately wants to get off the raging crime, raging COVID, raging inflation story that's driven Biden to another new low in the polls today.”
But this sort of thing is by no means confined just to Fox News. Prominent voices in the MAGA-centric media have also taken up Putin’s cause. As Cathy Young wrote in the Bulwark over the weekend, right-wing commentators like Sohrab Ahmari are eagerly pushing smears of Ukrainians as anti-Semitic fascists (while ignoring Russian fascism and anti-Semitism).
Ben Shapiro’s Candace Owens has not only defended Putin’s position, she has also suggested that we should be be invading Canada instead:
Marjorie Taylor Greene has also deployed her deep knowledge of international affairs to lie about Ukraine:
J.D. Vance, who has been desperate to establish his MAGA bona fides, thinks that it is “ridiculous that we are focused on this border in Ukraine.”
“I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t really care what happened to Ukraine one way or another.”
Former Trumpster A.J. Delgado is pushing the Putin’s-not-so-bad line…
Then there is GOP Representative Paul Gosar:
“We have no dog in the Ukraine fight. Not one American soldier should die there. Not one American bullet should be fired there. We just lost Afghanistan to sandal-wearing goat herders. I assure you [the] Russian military is no joke either,” said Republican Congressman Paul Gosar.
“Ukraine has no basis to be in NATO, and NATO itself — a Cold War relic — arguably has no current purpose or mission. Getting involved in a military situation with no U.S. interest is America Last, not America First,” he said.
Nota bene: No one — as in no one — is suggesting that any American troops be deployed in Ukraine.
What is Putin making of all of this? I think it’s reasonable to assume that he thinks these are the authentic echoes of the Once and Future MAGA king.
And Putin very much has the measure of the man, who has lavished him with praise, tried to weaken NATO, sided with him over his own government’s intelligence agencies, and actually held up military aid as part of his pressure campaign to get Ukraine's president to dig up dirt on Biden
"All this did was say to Russia that Ukraine was a playground," Fiona Hill said.
1. Republicans wince at Wisconsin GOP crack-up
The problem for the Wisconsin Republican Party is that it isn’t just Ramthun. The entire party has been erupting on a near-daily basis here. In recent weeks, several county parties have called on the state’s longtime Republican Assembly speaker, Robin Vos, to resign, accusing one of Wisconsin’s most reliable conservatives of doing too little to pursue baseless claims the 2020 election was rigged. Other local party leaders are objecting to — or considering ignoring — the state party’s endorsement process in critical midterm elections, arguing it’s exclusionary. And in addition to Ramthun, there’s another gubernatorial candidate, Kevin Nicholson — who is openly warring with the state party, casting its chair as part of a “broken machine.”
2. Steven Spielberg: The Director Abraham Lincoln Deserved
Bill Ryan, with a fantastic piece in the Bulwark:
At one point in the film, Lincoln is getting ready to send a telegraph to Grant with instructions that strongly imply Lincoln is ready to negotiate peace with the Confederacy without passing the amendment. By the end of the scene, he has changed his mind, but along the way he asks the telegraph operator (Adam Driver; everybody is in this movie) “Are we fitted to the times were are born into?” And the telegraph operator replies “Well, I don’t know about myself. But you maybe. Sir. Fitted.” Throughout the history of this country, we’ve had decent and indecent men serve as president, but there have only been maybe a half dozen who were truly fitted to their times, and none more so than him. Lincoln is a fine testament to that fact.
Thanks for the clarification. Now consider a name change for the “Conservative Political Action Conference” (CPAC)
Death cult update.
Thank you for your daily efforts to inform us Charlie. The challenge Fox News and their ilk pose for our democracy is daunting. I have friends that consume Fox and only Fox. They have armor-plated opinions that are “facts” which inform their support for what is clearly a fascist takeover of our nation. What are loyal Americans who love our constitutional form of government to do? The bad guys are destroying our nation.
Isolationism is a perennial temptation for the populist American right. Eisenhower used his stature to lead the Republican Party away from isolationism. I would ask this question: Isn't the character of Trumpian isolationism different than the variety that Ike battled?
The old isolationism was about a desire not to be drawn into conflicts around the world. The great fantasy was that two oceans would give us the freedom to ignore instability elsewhere.
The new isolationism seems to be rooted in a loss of faith in, or active hatred for, the world order that the US played the leading role in creating post-WWII. Nihilism is in the saddle.