We don't talk about Putin
Republicans are expressing sharply differing views on Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to openly send Russian forces into two regions of Ukraine he just unilaterally recognized as independent republics.
Top congressional Republicans called Putin a "thug" who is violating international law and urged President Biden to hammer Russia with tougher sanctions, while some also argued that Putin wouldn't have formally invaded Ukraine if Biden didn't project "weakness" and pursue "appeasement." Former President Donald Trump called Putin's invasion "genius" and "wonderful." Some GOP congressional hopefuls shrugged.
"Conservative media has been equally divided," Sahil Kapur and Alex Seitz-Wald report at NBC News. The Wall Street Journal editorial page urged tough action against Putin while "Fox News host Tucker Carlson has for weeks been leading the charge against taking action to stop Russia." On Tuesday night, Carlson asked why viewers should "hate" Putin, since he isn't doing things like promoting critical race theory or selling fentanyl.
"In 35 seconds here, Tucker Carlson basically said: 'Putin isn't your enemy. Your fellow American is,'" Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) recapped. "This is beyond dangerous, to say the least." Chess champion and prominent Putin critic Gary Kasparov tweeted about Carlson, "If [Putin] knew who you were, he'd call you a useful idiot."
Ken "Popehat" White compared Carlson to another prominent America-Firster who publicly wondered why Adolf Hitler was so bad: "Tucker is basically WWII era Charles Lindbergh, if Lindbergh had not been a heroic, record-breaking, and widely beloved pilot, but instead had been a frozen fish heir whose job was to look puzzled on a propaganda channel."
"The burgeoning sympathy for Putin's style in parts of the conservative movement could affect how ambitious Republicans position themselves for high office, including the White House," NBC News' Kapur and Seitz-Wald write, pointing at a recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll that found 62 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents calling Putin "a stronger leader" than Biden.
Trump's former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, believed to have presidential ambitions of his own, is trying to thread the needle, hammering Russia for invading Ukraine, suggesting Putin was too scared of Trump to do it on his watch, and also calling Putin "a very talented statesman" with "lots of gifts" in a recent Fox News interview. "He knows how to use power. We should respect that," he added. Unsurprisingly, that last sentiment is the part Russian state TV is focusing on now.