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Grassroots Republicans at CPAC turn on Vladimir Putin

Iin the five years since Vladimir Putin ordered Russian hackers to break into the Democratic National Committee’s email systems and wage a massive social media campaign to boost Donald’s presidential campaign Trump in 2016, the idea that the Russian dictator was an ally of the Republican Party gained traction among Democrats.

Such a notion is a 180-degree reversal of the anti-Russia stance taken by the GOP under previous presidents, with many Republicans citing Ronald Reagan’s role in bringing down what he called “the evil empire.” of the USSR as an achievement on a par with Abraham Lincoln. effort to win the American Civil War in the 1800s.

Still, the idea that the GOP is aligned with Moscow has remained an article of faith among some Democratic activists, who have pointed to Mr. Trump’s statements praising Mr. Putin.

It was that partisan sentiment – ​​and Mr Trump’s recent decision to call Mr Putin a “genius” acknowledging two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine before his all-out assault – that drove a political action committee Democrat to rent a plane to tow a banner reading “Putin welcomes CPAC to Orlando” above the Florida site of this year’s Conservative political action conference, where Mr Trump is due to speak on Saturday.

But Mr. Putin’s order to invade Ukraine and smash the peace that Europe has enjoyed since 1945 may have cost him what little support he has had among the Republican base.

A few bold Republican names – such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his former boss Mr Trump – have been ready to lavish praise on the Russian dictator in recent weeks and in the days following the invasion . and GOP leaders were much more likely to blame US President Joe Biden for the Russian attack, rather than assign responsibility for it to the Russian president.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

(AP)

Prominent right-wing media figures such as Fox News host Tucker Carlson also sided with Mr Putin earlier this week, with Mr Carlson asking his audience why he harbored negative feelings towards the Russian leader.

“Maybe it’s worth asking, because it’s getting pretty serious: what is it really about? Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Did he threaten to fire me for disagreeing with him Did he send all the middle class jobs in my town to Russia Did he manufacture a global pandemic that destroyed my business and kept me inside for two years?” Mr Carlson asked his audience before informing them of the correct answer: “No”.

And just last month, a poll showed Mr. Putin holding higher approval ratings among Republican voters than Mr. Biden. An Economist/YouGov poll taken late last month showed up to 15% of Republicans had a favorable view of him.

On Thursday, American Conservative Union President Matt Schlapp said The Independent the GOP’s apparent support for the Russian dictator might have been a knee-jerk reaction to Mr. Trump’s negative coverage stemming from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.

“I think there has been constant ridiculous coverage of Russia, Putin’s Russia, Putin and Russia. And I’m not sure the American people really understand how much of a bully he is because the people who led Putin’s coverage wrapped him up in their hatred of Donald Trump,” he said.

Matt Schlapp, president of the American Conservative Union, looks on as he participates in a panel discussion at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, U.S., February 25, 2022. REUTERS/Marco Bello

(Reuters)

But three days after the unprovoked incursion of Russian forces into Ukraine, the tide seems to be turning against Mr. Putin.

The grassroots Republicans who spoke to The Independent at CPAC had a much different view of Mr. Putin’s actions than the putative leaders of their party.

Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, a first-time GOP member in the House of Representatives, said The Independent he did not know what his colleagues were saying about those responsible for the attack on Ukraine.

While Mr Donalds criticized Mr Biden’s conduct regarding the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and his decision to join the Paris climate accords, the Florida congressman said the “first thing” is that the Mr. Putin’s actions are “totally inadmissible and unacceptable”.

“Nobody has the right to invade another country and overthrow it just because they decided to go back in time and say ‘oh, there are Russians there,'” he said. he declares. “The last tyrant who made this kind of decision was Adolf Hitler, and history knows him.”

A GOP congressional hopeful, Arkansas House candidate Conrad Reynolds, said The Independent that Mr Putin had “exaggerated his hand” and forced NATO to decide “if they want to do something or not” to counter his aggression”.

“You have a bully who beats the little kid, takes his milk and everyone looks around,” said Mr Reynolds, a US Army veteran who retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Mr Reynolds added that what Russia was doing to Ukraine was “an occupation”.

“They want control and the people who live there don’t want to be controlled – the free nations of the world need to stick together,” he said.

Continuing, Mr. Reynolds said the apparent disconnect between traditional Republican disdain for Russia and the Trump-era Russophilia displayed by some GOP members can be explained by a split between “true conservatives” – a category in which he placed himself – and “the Republican Party”.

“I’m a real Arkansas conservative and I see it as — we have an old saying in Arkansas, when I see a turtle on the fence post, it didn’t get there on its own. I didn’t need to see anyone put it there. I know by logic and common sense that someone put it there. And that’s how I see the situation in Ukraine,” he said.

People attend the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, U.S., February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Octavio Jones

(Reuters)

Another CPAC attendee, Adam Thompson, was more willing to criticize other Republican ex-presidents for being lenient with Mr. Putin — but not with Mr. Trump.

He said The Independent“Three of the last four presidents, including Bush, have seen Putin seize the territory of nations. It didn’t happen on Trump’s watch and I think that’s all there is to say.”

Mr. Thompson also said the pro-Putin faction within the GOP was a “fringe aberration”, and suggested that Mr. Trump’s apparent praise for the Russian dictator was just the way the ex-president said that Mr. Putin was “not an idiot”.

Participant Daniel Hess said he was “honestly surprised” by the brutality of Russian actions in recent days.

” It’s shocking. Looks like there’s a lot of bloodshed,” he said. “I think we’ve had a huge amount of new information in the last few days. Almost everyone is surprised. I think even the Russian people are surprised.”

Continuing, Mr. Hess said The Independent he thinks Mr Putin “made a terrible mistake” and, although he stressed that he had never considered himself “pro-Putin”, he said his opinion of the Russian leader “is has significantly weakened over the past 48 hours.”

“The world he sees is not the world we live in. You can’t act that way. Violence is not the answer,” he said.

Yet the putative pro-Putin faction still wields enormous influence within the GOP.

Mr Carlson, the Fox News host, backtracked slightly on his earlier comments, absolving Mr Putin of blame on Thursday by acknowledging that Mr Putin “started this war”, which he called a “tragedy”.

And on Friday, a “special guest” at the American Conservative Union’s annual Ronald Reagan dinner will be former Hawaiian Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat and frequent guest on Mr. Carlson’s show, who has blamed the expansion of the NATO – not Mr. Putin’s imperial ambitions – for the violence Russia has unleashed.

The frozen food heir-turned-Fox News star’s affinity for Mr Putin appears to put off even die-hard fans in the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

A self-proclaimed “huge Tucker Carlson fan,” Maryland pastor Jim Boothby, said The Independent he spent Thursday fielding calls from another cloth man in Ukraine, a place where many of his own devotees have roots.

“We got a phone call yesterday from the bishop of the church there who said ‘we are trying to buy arms to protect our wives and children,'” Mr Boothby recalled.

“He said that after they couldn’t buy guns, [they] went to stores trying to buy baseball bats, and they were sold out. So live Tucker Carlson, I don’t give a fuck,” he said. “It’s 2022 – these people don’t want to be owned, dominated and ruled by Russia.”