Saturday, February 26, 2022


James Poniewozik of The New York Times notices a sudden shift in the way Tucker Carlson talks about Vladimir Putin.
The Fox News host Tucker Carlson spent the run-up to the attack in sneering anti-anti-Putin mode. He said Ukraine was not a democracy but a U.S. “client state.” He argued ... that Democrats were trying to “mandate” that Americans hate Mr. Putin. (“Has Putin ever called me a racist?” Mr. Carlson asked. “Does he eat dogs?”) Russian state media gave Mr. Carlson a rave review, picking up his commentary.

Thursday night, with Russia having moved more aggressively than “certainly this show ever anticipated,” Mr. Carlson staged a tactical retreat. “Vladimir Putin started this war,” he said. “He is to blame for what we’re seeing tonight.”
Hot Air's Allahpundit noticed this too, and ascribed it to polls showing that rank-and-file Republicans are anti-Putin. And now we see everyone from Newsmax's Christopher Ruddy to the American Enterprise Institute's James Pethokoukis attacking Carlson and other Putinphiles on the American right. This must sting for Carlson, who's been trying to align himself with the portion of the right that sees Putin and Hungary's Viktor Orbán as heroes of "traditionalist" white Christianity. (Carlson famously groveled at Orbán's feet during a week's worth of TV broadcasts from Hungary.)

I'm not sure it stings quite so much for the most famous Putin cheerleader, Donald Trump. Trump has aligned himself with right-wing evangelicals and praised Putin, but I'm not sure he quite sees the connection. His praise for Putin seems to stem from his lifelong admiration for the craftsmanship of gangsters, thugs, and dictators. The Daily Beast's Matt Lewis offers a sample:
This is, after all, the same guy who said of Saddam Hussein, “He was a bad guy, really bad guy, but you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good.”

Of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Trump said, “It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle, he wiped out this one, that one. I mean this guy doesn’t play games. And we can’t play games with him.”

And of China’s massacre of pro-democracy protesters, Trump said, “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. That shows you the power of strength.”
This postures gives Trump the flexibility to say admiring things about Putin while also claiming that he -- Trump -- would have protected the world against Putin's aggression better than that weak, feckless Biden. Trump wants us to see him as a thug just like Putin (whose thuggishness is admirable even though it must be contained). Here's what Trump said in his recent interview with Clay Travis and Buck Sexton:
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.

By the way, this never would have happened with us. Had I been in office, not even thinkable. This would never have happened. But here’s a guy that says, you know, “I’m gonna declare a big portion of Ukraine independent,” he used the word “independent,” “and we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna go in and we’re gonna help keep peace.” You gotta say that’s pretty savvy. And you know what the response was from Biden? There was no response. They didn’t have one for that. No, it’s very sad. Very sad.
(It appears the public is buying this. In a Harvard CAPS-Harris poll, 62% of respondents say that they believe Putin wouldn't be invading Ukraine if Trump were president, and 59% say Putin made the move because he regarded President Biden as weak.)

"Democrats are weak" has always been the GOP's happy place. Recently it's become trendy on the right to denounce "globalists" and to chant "America First," but the opportunity to portray a Democratic president as a 98-pound weakling is irresistible. So, for the moment, most Republicans are talking about Putin as a bad guy enabled by a weak Democrat -- and Trump is talking about Putin as a fellow thug who's appealingly tough, but not as tough as himself. I think the right will settle there for now.


UPDATE: Marjorie Taylor Greene seemed to be an exception to all this when she spoke at the America First Political Action Conference, chaired by Nick Fuentes, who is openly pro-Putin.

But after that, Greene threw Fuentes under the bus and toed the GOP line:

I do not know Nick Fuentes. I've never heard him speak. I've never seen a video. I don't know what his views are, so I'm not aligned with anything that may be controversial.... Now, in regards to Russia, Putin is a murderer, and he should never have invaded Ukraine.... The whole reason this is happening is because Joe Biden is a weak president, now America is a weak country, and our entire world is falling apart and we're seeing war erupt, which did not happen under President Trump because we had peace through strength.
So she clearly got the memo.

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