For decades, the Republican Party was known for defending free trade, insisting on constitutional strictures, preaching civic virtue and family values, and articulating a tough international posture, the latter especially during the Cold War. If you now are a sincere free trader, believe in not just originalism but the ethos of the rule of law and care about ethical propriety, human decency and a no-nonsense stance toward an aggressive and oppressive kleptocracy in Moscow, the GOP isn’t much help. Too often it is an antagonist, not a protector of the things you hold dear. On each of these issues, those who believed the same things they did in 2000, in 1990 and in 1980 are alternatively mystified and angered by the willingness of the GOP to shed its beliefs out of fidelity to President Trump.
SurveyMonkey completed a quick poll for Axios in the wake of the GOP’s botched memo release concerning surveillance of suspected Russian agent Carter Page. “FBI approval in the SurveyMonkey Poll, taken over the past two days, is 64% among Democrats and just 38% among Republicans. Unfavorable opinion of the FBI: 47% in the GOP; 14% among Ds.” This is a reversal of long-standing opinion among Americans. Axios observes that “overall opinion of the FBI fell over the past year … likely driven entirely by falling approval from Rs.”
A party proud of its support for law and order has now been lured into the Trumpian world of incoherent conspiracies. (If the FBI was out to spy on the Trump campaign, why surveil Page only after he left the campaign? If the FBI was tilted toward Hillary Clinton, why wade into the campaign 11 days before the election with a spurious concern about additional emails?) In short, to be a loyal Republican not only means to forget past positions (or minimize their importance), but also to deny that one has changed for completely irrational reasons.
The same intellectual contortion applies to our policy toward Russia. Throughout the Cold War, Republicans accused Democrats of being too solicitous toward and often pawns (“useful idiots”) of the Soviets. Now Trump and his merry band of sycophants in Congress and the right-wing media spout Russian propaganda. (#Releasethememo seemed to be a joint social media campaign between Russian bots and Trump cultists.) WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tries to message Sean Hannity, who talks to Trump.
Here too, polling reveals the party has reversed decades of accepted wisdom. In 2017, a Pew Research Center poll “found that the share of Republicans expressing confidence in Putin doubled to 34 percent from 17 percent in 2015, when Donald Trump launched a campaign for the White House that was seen as friendly toward Moscow.” After a campaign in which Trump and his team willingly accepted or even solicited “dirt” on Hillary Clinton (including hacked emails) and after the year they have spent denying Russian interference in our elections, it is little wonder the obedient followers in the GOP have adopted views one would never have expected: “Just 13 percent of Democrats have confidence in Putin, the poll found. And while 61 percent of Democrats consider Russia a major national security risk, only 36 percent of Republicans do, the poll of 1,505 adults conducted from Feb. 16 to March 15 found.” If you want a party that’s hawkish on Russia, the GOP doesn’t seem to be the ideal place.
Perhaps after Trump Republicans will revert to “normal.” We don’t know, but for now it’s the Democrats who are on the side of law and order and who are Russia hawks.