As Ukrainian forces mount an impressive defense of their territory against a Russian invasion, it’s been jarring to see Republican elected officials cravenly squirm when asked about Donald Trump’s praise of Putin.
Just this Saturday, Trump defended calling Putin “smart” at the Conservative Political Action Conference, while claiming that “our leaders are dumb” and that “Putin is playing Biden like a drum”.
In the past few days since the invasion began, Trump has called Putin a “genius” and “savvy”, which is not surprising considering that Trump has had a habit of complementing authoritarian leaders like North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
Trump even likened the Russian invasion to a real estate deal, praising at a fundraiser dinner Putin’s unilateral declaration of independence for two eastern provinces of Ukraine. “Listen, he’s taking over a country, really a vast, vast location,” said Trump, “a great piece of land with a lot of people, and just walking right in.”
There are unapologetic and unhinged lunatics in the Republican Party like Arizona State Senator Wendy Davis, who tweeted “Zelensky is a globalist puppet for Soros and the Clintons”. Others like alleged pedophile Matt Gaetz will always find an opportunity to behave like internet trolls and now mock the idea that Americans should assist Ukrainians in the defense of their country.
Conservative media pundits have largely been Putin apologists throughout the lead-up to the invasion of Ukraine. Fox News’ Laura Ingraham actually mocked Ukrainian President Zelensky’s plea that Putin stop the attack on his country as a “pathetic display ” during an interview with Donald Trump, who when asked for a reaction merely said that the invasion wouldn’t have happened if he was president. Zelensky is now being praised for refusing offers to evacuate his country and said he needs “ammunition, not a ride”.
Tucker Carlson, who is also at Fox News, has for weeks used the build-up of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine to score cheap partisan points against the Biden administration, characterizing the Russian invasion as a “border dispute” and asking viewers to rethink their ill feelings toward Putin, asking “Has Putin ever called me a racist? Is he making fentanyl? Is he trying to snuff out Christianity? Does he eat dogs?”.
After looking like an idiot following the invasion of Ukraine, Tucker quickly backpedaled. “Vladimir Putin started this war,” he said. “He is to blame tonight for what we’re seeing tonight in Ukraine.” Tucker has for a long time been shilling for Putin on Fox News, during an interview with Jim Jordan in 2019, he actually said that the U.S. should “probably take the side of Russia if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine.” Those comments have not aged well.
It’s been particularly sad watching sniveling and cowardly Republican lawmakers refuse to answer questions regarding their thoughts of Trump’s praise of Putin. Arizona Senator Tom Cotton said he “doesn’t speak for other politicians” while on ABC and when the host followed up by noting that if it was Biden or any other Democratic politician praising Putin he would surely have something to say, Cotton again refused to comment.
In Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is usually very outspoken regarding foreign affairs. During protests in Cuba last year, DeSantis hosted press conferences and media events to support the efforts for regime change on the island. He has issued proclamations of support for Juan Guaido in Venezuela, who seeks to remove Nicolas Maduro and his government from power.
However, it’s been three days since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has begun and Ron DeSantis is nowhere to be found. He seems to be selective in his outrage, if it’s leftist authoritarians, you can count on Ron DeSantis to use the bully pulpit of his office to loudly denounce them. However, if it’s a far-right authoritarian, DeSantis will hide and his spokesperson will offer the hypocritical defense that his silence is due to him being “the Governor of Florida”.
The reality is simple. Ron DeSantis, Tom Cotton, and other Republican lawmakers with political aspirations for higher or continued office live in perpetual terror that Trump will turn on them and sic his MAGA supporters on them. They are constantly enabling Trump’s idiotic and harmful behavior because of sheer cowardice, despite whatever harm it does to our political discourse or international relations. These cowards do not deserve to be in public office.
Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. He Tweets from @tomaskenn.
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is a reported opinion columnist and roving correspondent. He's an elected member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida and a Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.