America is uniting against Vladimir Putin - Lexington for the Economist - Feb 5th 2022
Republicans are playing a more constructive role in the Ukraine crisis than Donald Trump must like
WHEN WALTER CRONKITE turned sadly against the war in Vietnam, legend has it, Lyndon Johnson knew he’d lost Middle America. By contrast, there is nothing reluctant about the denunciations of America’s much more modest military posture towards Ukraine by today’s most popular news anchor. For weeks Tucker Carlson of Trump-loving Fox News has been pushing an “America First” cocktail of disdainful isolationism, paranoid anti-elitism and Vladimir Putin fandom.
Ukraine is “strategically irrelevant” to America, he insists. “Senile” Joe Biden is running a neoconservative “war machine”. The machine is being fuelled by defence contractors who stand to profit from a war, suggests Mr Carlson. Mr Putin, perfectly understandably, “just wants to keep his Western borders secure”. And any elected Republican who backs Mr Biden’s effort to deter him should be “ruthlessly” primaried. Mr Carlson’s views have gone down a storm with Russian state media.
Mr Carlson is so influential on the Trumpian right that he has himself been touted as a future president. Inevitably, therefore, some of his 3m viewers have told their congressional representatives that they should be backing Russia, not Ukraine. Yet, in another contrast with Cronkite, who had almost ten times as many viewers, Mr Carlson’s is now a marginal voice on national security. Most Americans view the Russian troop build-up as a threat to American interests and want to support Ukraine by all means short of troop deployments—and there is little distance between Republicans and Democrats on this issue. A year after Mr Trump left office, Republicans’ view of the bear has normalised.
This has encouraged many Republicans in Congress to revert to their pre-Trump Russia positions. Those in the House have predictably found it hardest. A faction of Trumpian diehards, such as Paul Gosar of Arizona, agree with Mr Carlson; and some of their colleagues—including the party’s leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy—are afraid to disagree with him openly. Yet many of the same Republican House members who in 2019 shrugged off Mr Trump’s underhand effort to lean on Volodymyr Zelensky are now among the Ukrainian leader’s fiercest defenders. Liz Cheney, who called the scandal Mr Trump’s coercion of Mr Zelensky elicited “a political set-up”, is one of them.
Republicans in both houses are blaming Mr Biden excessively for the crisis. “Biden is weak and Putin preys on weakness,” says one senator. But their sniping has not prevented the Senate drafting a bipartisan list of sanctions on Mr Putin’s regime, which could soon be passed. Including lend-lease arrangements for Ukraine and curbs on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, it represents an effort to defuse earlier partisan disagreements on the conflict. The idea, according to Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, was “both to support Ukraine and to show Vladimir Putin that he’s not going to divide Democrats and Republicans on this issue.”
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