One of the strangest and most troubling things about President-elect Donald Trump is his unending, unwavering affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although the Republican Party has traditionally been very hawkish on Russia, often criticizing President Obama for being "feckless" in his dealings with the country, Trump’s ascendance to the presidency has caused the GOP to do a complete 180 on the matter. Now, the Republican Party is firmly The Party of Putin, and if you don’t believe me, here are but a few of the pro-Putin things Trump and his allies have said this week.
On Thursday, the Obama administration announced that it would enact new economic sanctions against Russia and expel 35 of the country’s diplomats from the United States in response to Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. election. Naturally, Republicans criticized the president for this, and that’s probably the result of two things: The party’s reflexive opposition to anything Obama supports, and moreover, Trump’s unabashedly pro-Russian sentiments.
Shortly after the White House announced the sanctions, Trump’s former campaign manager and current top adviser Kellyanne Conway went on CNN to criticize Obama for initiating them, suggesting the the sanctions were merely an attempt by Obama to “box in” Trump.
"I will tell you that even those who are sympathetic to President Obama on most issues are saying that part of the reason he did this today was to quote 'box in' President-elect Trump," Conway told Kate Bolduan. "That would be very unfortunate if politics were the motivating factor here. We can't help but think that's often true.”
Conway used weaselly language here, employing the old “some are saying” formulation to distance herself from the claim she was making. Even so, her comments only make sense if you accept, as a premise, that Trump is somehow on Russia’s side. Why else would sanctions against Russia “box in” the president elect?
She also implied that the Obama administration’s actions against Russia were unprecedentedly harsh, saying, “I don't think at the height of the Cold War that this country expelled that many operatives.” This is factually incorrect: In 1986, President Reagan expelled 80 Soviet operatives from the United States, more than twice the number of Russian diplomats Obama expelled on Thursday.
Conway isn’t the only one. We also have Republican Congressman Trent Franks, who once wrote an op-ed comparing Putin to Adolf Hitler but now, mysteriously, has had a complete change of heart toward the Russian dictator.
On Friday, Franks echoed Conway’s sentiments, telling MSNBC that “Barack Obama's primary motivation [in enacting sanctions against Russia] is to try to delegitimize the election here.” It was an appalling statement: If sanctions against Russia can “delegitimize” Trump’s victory in the election, that would mean Trump was essentially running for the U.S. presidency on Putin’s behalf. There’s no other way to interpret Franks’ comment.
Earlier, when asked about allegations that Russia helped leak information during the presidential campaign that was damaging to Hillary Clinton, Franks explained that this was just fine, because Russia was doing “what the media should have done.”
“Whatever [Russia] might have done was to use information in a way that may have affected something that they believed was in their best interests,” Franks said. “If Russia succeeded in giving the American people information that was accurate, then they merely did what the media should have done.”
Two years ago, Franks called Obama “childishly naive” for attempting to improve relations with Russia.
Lastly, we have Trump himself. The president-elect initially suggested that he opposes the sanctions, saying in a short statement that “it’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.” A day later, Putin announced that Russia won’t retaliate against the new round of sanctions and diplomatic expulsions, and will instead wait for Trump to take office to chart a response.
Like clockwork, Trump responded by heaping praise upon Putin, calling his decision a “great move” and insisting, “I always knew he was very smart!” For good measure, Trump pinned the tweet to the top of his feed.
It’s unclear how long the romance between Trump and Putin will last. But the GOP’s transformation into a pro-Russian party is nothing short of remarkable, and we’ve got Trump to thank for it.