Over the weekend, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine intensified, top GOP donors gathered in New Orleans for the Republican National Committee’s closed-door spring retreat. Keynote speakers included former Vice President Mike Pence on Friday, followed by former President Trump on Saturday. And while Pence’s comments attempting to distance himself from Trump made headlines Friday, (“There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin.”), it was the GOP’s Putin-Apologist-in-Chief, the former President, whose speech commanded the weekend’s top headlines.
Just over a week since he lauded Putin’s Ukraine strategy as “Genius” and “very savvy,” in a story first reported by The Washington Post, Trump’s remarks on Saturday included the (incredibly stupid, and maybe even globally suicidal) musing that “the United States should label its F-22 planes with the Chinese flag and “bomb the s–t out of Russia.”
“And then we say, China did it, we didn’t do it, China did it, and then they start fighting with each other and we sit back and watch,” Trump told his audience, to laughter and applause.
A joke, perhaps. In poor taste, but, then, it’s Trump.
He went on to rant (during 84 minutes of remarks) about his usual litany of complaints: the “rigged” election, Republican politicians who he feels have been insufficiently loyal, the duplicitousness of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. But when it came to Ukraine, Trump’s remarks took on a very different tone than they have in previous weeks. Gone were the complaints about NATO and the praising of Putin’s genius and savvy—now it was Trump who was the bulwark against Russian aggression all along. “I knew Putin very well. He would not have done it. He would have never done it,” Trump said of his (imagined) ability to have kept Russia out of Ukraine.
Different remarks from the two men, sure. But taken in total, Trump’s and Pence’s remarks are both equally representative of a new trend in Republican politics as the realities of Putin’s ground war in Europe settle in: the need to appear to be on the right side of the conflict, even if that means revising history.
Current polling shows that Americans are very much behind Ukraine in its conflict with Russia—including a vast majority of Republicans. This, despite near daily encouragement from their party’s propaganda wing (Fox News) to see Russia as an ally, right up to the moment of Russia’s invasion.
Pence’s remarks that there is no room in the GOP for Putin apologists is, frankly, laughable, considering his complicity in an administration that was full of them.
And Trump’s remarks that his own “strength” was what kept Russia out of Ukraine are ridiculous on their face, coming from a President who was impeached for attempting to use military assistance to blackmail the Ukrainian government into inventing evidence of President Biden’s corruption in his son’s dealings there.
But the trend continues among high profile Republicans. Here’s noted former Tea Party Republican and current independent Joe Walsh reacting to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s asinine revisionism:
Or here’s Ted Cruz, claiming that Ukraine wasn’t invaded under Trump because Trump was tough on Russia. ““Putin did not invade Ukraine throughout that time until Joe Biden became president.”
Or here, even, is Fox News’ star host Tucker Carlson walking back his support of Putin. This should tell us all we need to know about the GOP’s commitment to this current revisionism (even if Carlson did, ultimately, blame the Biden administration for his wrong-headedness.)