The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Dear media: Ask Republicans why they are normalizing support for Putin

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin walk to participate in a group photo at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in 2019. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Most Republicans remain cultishly devoted to defeated former president Donald Trump, even as he openly praises Vladimir Putin for dismembering Ukraine, a democratic ally. Imagine a leader of an American party praising the Soviets as their troops crushed the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

Trump has never stopped rooting for and genuflecting to Putin — not when he sided with Putin’s lies over U.S. intelligence on election interference; not when he echoed Russian propaganda on its invasion of Crimea; not when he diminished the murder of Russian journalists. So perhaps it should not be shocking that he remains infatuated with Putin as the Russian dictator wages a war of aggression unlike anything we have seen since World War II.

Many Republicans have absorbed Trump’s reverence for authoritarians. Others refuse to denounce him, apparently more concerned about not offending Trump than about supporting democratic allies in Europe. Will they keep this up as the casualties pile up? Once Kyiv is reduced to rubble?

As Russia murders innocent civilians, it is important to remember this is not simply about Putin’s obsession with Ukraine. Michael Abramowitz, head of Freedom House, tells me: “Left unchecked, the spread of Putinism is a grave threat to the security and prosperity of democracies everywhere. Given what appears to be happening in Ukraine, what is urgently needed from the [European Union] and all democratic nations is a swift, united response that makes it clear to Putin that his actions will not be tolerated — and moreover, that he’s failing in his attempts to undercut transatlantic unity.”

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Instead, many Republicans — including their leader — have chosen to savage the American president who put together that transatlantic alliance. This is the point at which the mainstream media — unaccustomed to such anti-American, pro-aggressor positioning from a major political party — falters.

Not a single Republican should be spared a grilling on the descent into conquest-worshiping. They should be asked:

  • Is Putin a war criminal? Would you reject a political leader who praised him? Is such a person fit to be commander in chief?
  • Is Putin a “genius”? Are you comfortable that Russian state networks think remarks from Trump-acolytes are so effective that they air them on TV?
  • How can you criticize President Biden for being weak when Trump appeased Putin for four years and still roots for him?
  • Why did you not stand up to Trump during his presidency when he attempted to extort Ukraine and so often sided with Putin? Was that “America First”?
  • How can you call yourself an advocate of a strong U.S. foreign policy if you’d support Trump for president again?
  • Don’t you think fawning over Putin gives him the impression that the West is divided? Doesn’t this aid his invasion?

Republicans should not be allowed to run away from reporters asking such questions or move on to other topics. For once, they need to be held accountable for their tacit approval, if not active participation, in an anti-American, antidemocratic, pro-authoritarian movement that marries defense of political violence at home (“legitimate political discourse”) with encouragement for authoritarian rogue states.

And it behooves the media not to talk about this as another political process story (e.g., “Republicans divided,” “Will pro-Putin rhetoric work?,” “Does this help Trump?”). Not every story is or should be turned into clickbait for a snarky newsletter.

In the midst of an assault on democracy and the concept of a rules-based international order, a major political party has thoroughly debased itself and boosted the enemy of both. To reaffirm objective reality and identify the threats to democracy, the public has a right to know: Are Republicans on Team America or Team Trump/Putin?

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia claimed to have seized control of Soledar, a heavily contested salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine where fighting has raged recently, but a Ukrainian military official maintained that the battle was not yet over. The U.S. and Germany are sending tanks to Ukraine.

Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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