I’m so old, I remember when the Republican Party proudly stood up against Russian aggression and interference.
During her testimony before Congress last month, former top White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill threw a shocking assertion at Republicans: “Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country and that perhaps Ukraine did,” she said. “This is a fictional narrative perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
Actually, it wasn’t that shocking. We have become inured to it. What is more, her words fell on deaf ears.
Since then, one of the GOP’s top Putin water-carriers has been Louisiana Senator John Kennedy, who continues to advance disinformation that matches Russian talking points.
Most recently, his assertion that the former president of Ukraine “actively worked” for Hillary Clinton prompted Meet the Press host Chuck Todd to respond: “You realize the only other person selling this argument outside the United States is this man, Vladimir Putin!”
What makes Kennedy’s comments especially egregious is that, according to a recent New York Times report, “American intelligence officials informed senators and their aides in recent weeks that Russia had engaged in a yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election, according to three American officials.”
In fairness to Kennedy, in using Putin’s talking points he’s also advancing Trump’s. Other Republicans, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Rep. Devin Nunes have done the same.
Of course, when you factor in other parts of the story, such as Russia’s attempt to use the Republican-adjacent National Rifle Association (NRA) as a “foreign asset,” it becomes harder to dismiss so casually.
Kennedy's hardly the only one. My friend and former boss, Tucker Carlson, said on his show Monday night that, “We should probably take the side of Russia if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine. That’s my view.”
He then blasted Todd for his interview with Kennedy, declaring that, “The irony, of course, is that Putin, for all his faults, does not hate America as much as many of these people do.”
Even if you dismiss the possibility that something truly nefarious is at play between Trump and Russia, you’re still left with a pretty startling and undeniable development: The GOP has become the Russia party.
This is nothing short of a stunning reversal.
Sometime after the assassination of the other John Kennedy (the Democratic one was actually a Russia hawk), the Republicans and “Scoop” Jackson Democrats stood united against Russia.
It was the Right that was obsessed with stopping Russian infiltration—and calling out people on the Left for being “useful idiots” or “dupes” or (worse) traitors. In some cases, such as Joseph McCarthy, this “red scare” was inappropriately demagogued for political purposes. And in 1950, Richard Nixon accused his Democratic opponent, Helen Gahagan Douglas, of being “pink right down to her underwear.”
But it’s worth pointing out: RUSSIANS REALLY WERE TRYING TO INFILTRATE AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS.
America has been blessed to have two political parties. The Democrats were largely right about civil rights, and the Republicans were largely right about the Cold War. These were two of the big questions of the last half of the 20th century. What is amazing is how quickly the Republicans have completely flipped on such a defining issue.
It’s hard to pinpoint just when this happened, but it’s fair to say it started sometime after they started referring to Republican states as “red” states (coincidence? I think not!). Still, just seven years ago, the Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney, declared that Russia was our number one geopolitical foe. Sadly, he was mocked for this. “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because, the Cold War's been over for 20 years,” then-President Obama jibed.
For whatever reason, the very next year was the first time I encountered conservatives who were praising Putin. Even then, it struck me as bizarre. It probably has something to do with when I came of age, but count me among the Americans who never trusted Russia. What’s amazing to me is that there aren’t more of us. My favorite modern president is Ronald Reagan, who called the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire” and told Mr. Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” And if you want to talk about a propaganda effort, imagine the cumulative influence that Rocky IV and Rambo, had on us, and that’s just to mention the Sylvester Stallone movies. Let’s be honest, Hollywood cares only about ticket sales. But if the American government had wanted to indoctrinate us into being lifelong conservative, anti-Russians, they couldn’t have come up with a better way to spend their billions.
These days, the old slogan has flipped to better red (ok, Russian) than politically dead.
Facing the prospects of nuclear annihilation, yesterday’s Leftists preferred a communist future. Facing the prospects of electoral defeat, today’s Republicans prefer to advance Russia’s propaganda. Whether it’s physical cowardice or political cowardice, it sure isn’t about putting America first.
Of course, Obama had a point when he said that the Cold War has been over a long time. Here, though, I think there are two huge caveats: First, there’s the fact that the current leader of Russia is an ex-KGB agent who called the collapse of the Soviet Union a “genuine tragedy.” The second is that communism was only one of the reasons to fear Russia. Sure, I was against Godless atheism and a top-down planned economy—things that are ostensibly now gone—but I was also against authoritarianism, murder, dictatorship, and imperialism—attributes that are demonstrably still present.
These last few years have shown me countless ways that the world I grew up in has turned upside down, and the political party that I embraced because of Ronald Reagan, and then spent most of my life allied with, has not only abandoned its stance on issues that drew me to the GOP—but has actually done a 180 on them.
A lot of things have surprised me, but none more than than this: The GOP is the Russia propaganda party.