‘We Need the Good Guys to Win’
- Trump’s “America First” platform shunned American involvement abroad.
- Criticizing Putin remains verboten for the MAGA faithful.
- The war in Ukraine has shaken awake some establishment Republicans.
Republicans held their tongues through all the ally-alienating NATO bashing Donald Trump did as president. They largely held ranks during his Ukrainian aid-related first impeachment.
The GOP of 2023 is turning into something very different. Key parts of it have shed the MAGA gag to assail Vladimir Putin for launching a war in Ukraine.
“Serial war criminal.”
Those were just a few of the personal insults that flew from the likes of Republican Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, John Cornyn of Texas, Jerry Moran of Kansas, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, respectively, as they unloaded on the Russian president at the US Capitol.
Wicker accused Putin of slaughtering tens of thousands of women and children over the years, citing his involvement in deadly campaigns including the leveling of the Chechen capital of Grozny two decades ago and the bombardment of Aleppo, Syria in 2016. “He will continue to kill innocent human beings until he’s stopped,” Wicker told reporters.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a former Trump rival who then became a key ally in Congress, said cutting Putin’s ambitions short should be everybody’s top priority.
“It is in America’s national security interest for Russia to lose because we don’t want Putin to be stronger and to take a major step towards reassembling the Soviet Union, towards threatening Americans, towards threatening our allies in Europe,” Cruz said earlier this week.
Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who advocated for shipping over whatever defensive weapons Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wants ASAP, cast the current conflict in apocalyptic terms.
“It’s a moral battle between good guys and bad guys,” Sasse said while surrounded by a dozen colleagues at the US Capitol. “And we need the good guys to win.”
It’s all a stark change from the insular “America First” strategy favored by Trump, who devoted his time in office to building walls around the country, demanded protection money from NATO allies he said were overly reliant on the US, and cut deals with the Taliban to withdraw the US from the forever war in Afghanistan.
Now as an ex-president, Trump still seemingly can’t help but cheer on the ambitious former KGB agent, just like he’s done throughout his business career and polarizing one-term presidency.
The GOP’s rhetorical dam break has gushed forth since Zelenskyy’s address to Congress, a heart-breaking appeal that garnered sympathy galore on Capitol Hill but didn’t sway lawmakers on keeping US troops off the battlefield — for now.
Another likely catalyst was Trump’s jarring praise of Putin, whom he described as “savvy” and “genius” right as Putin launched the assault on neighboring Ukraine.
The split is playing out both in the US and abroad.
Russian state television is re-running Putin-friendly segments by Fox News personality Tucker Carlson and clips of Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina calling Zelenskyy a “thug.”
—Ron Filipkowski 🇺🇦 (@RonFilipkowski) March 17, 2022
Democrats are also trying to score political points off the disparity.
Left-leaning Really American PAC released an ad blasting several Republicans for singing Russia’s praises during a July 4, 2018, visit to Moscow. The lawmakers have since bashed President Joe Biden’s handling of the Ukraine crisis.
—Really American 🇺🇸 (@ReallyAmerican1) March 10, 2022
The Independence Day revelers include Republican Sens. Moran, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Richard Shelby of Alabama, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Steve Daines of Montana, John Kennedy of Louisiana, and John Thune of South Dakota.
Across the Capitol, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy continues playing clean up on all things MAGA.
Last week McCarthy called Putin “evil” to distance himself from Trump’s comments. He publicly chastised Cawthorn on Friday for the “thug” remark. And he’ll no doubt spend the next few days fielding awkward questions about the eight House Republicans who recently voted against halting normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus.
Party unity is more important than ever, Cruz said, adding that he draws strength from then-President Ronald Reagan’s philosophy about the original Cold War.
“He said, ‘It’s very simple. We win, they lose,'” Cruz said in Washington. “We need that clarity to defeat Putin right now.”