Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire” and damned near triggered a nuclear war with the Soviets in 1983. The U.S.S.R. and U.S. Came Closer to Nuclear War Than We Thought.
The days when a Republican politician could build their entire political career around red-baiting anti-communism largely ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was dissolved on December 26, 1991.
As Nancy LeTourneau at the Political Animal blog points out in What’s Up With Trump and Putin?, “[I]t is important to reject the old Cold War frame about a contest between capitalism and communism. Russia has long since ceased to be a country built on the teachings of Karl Marx and has evolved into a right-wing ethno-nationalist plutocracy. As Jonathan Chait (December 2014) pointed out a while ago, the neocon movement in the Republican Party has been impressed with Russian authoritarianism for a while now.
“The ongoing Russian crisis has given American conservatives the chance to reprise in miniature their mistaken overestimation of communism’s power. When Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year, the right lamented Barack Obama’s slow, contemplative diplomacy, which was no match for Vladimir Putin’s autocratic will. Rudy Giuliani practically lusted after the Russian dictator. “Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day. Right? He decided he had to go to their parliament, he went to their parliament, he got permission in fifteen minutes,” swooned the admired foreign-policy strategist. “That’s what you call a leader.” Other conservatives echoed Giuliani’s praise for Putin’s will to power.”
President Obama mocked Republicans’ “Putin envy” at the 2014 White House Correspondents Dinner with this gag image.
It’s not so funny now, is it?
The conservative media entertainment complex, not just the crypto-fascist alt-right media, laid the groundwork for the Trump campaign, and a right-wing ethno-nationalist plutocracy.
Trump’s affection for Russian president Vladimir Putin is based upon his deep financial ties to the Russian oligarchs. Donald Trump’s Many, Many, Many, Many Ties to Russia. Trump’s inner circle includes former campaign manager Paul Manafort, adviser Carter Page, and his national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, all of whom have deep ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin. Trump’s daughter Ivanka, a key campaign figure, vacationed with Putin’s rumored girlfriend, Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife, Wendi Deng Murdoch. And now Trump has selected Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, a man with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Trump’s choice for secretary of state has close ties to Russia, raising concerns.
This situation would have been unimaginable in Republican circles not all that long ago.
But the influence of propaganda from the alt-right and conservative media entertainment complex has produced this disturbing result: new polling by YouGov finds GOP voters shifting their opinions on WikiLeaks and Russian President Vladimir Putin to match up with their candidate. GOP voters warm to Russia, Putin, WikiLeaks, poll finds:
The Economist-YouGov poll, which has tracked partisan sentiment about WikiLeaks since 2013, now finds a majority of Republicans viewing the organization favorably. In the summer of 2013, WikiLeaks was viewed more negatively than positively by Republicans by a 47-point margin; Democrats, by a 3-point margin, also viewed it negatively. Now, Republicans view WikiLeaks favorably by a 27-point margin, a 74-point swing; Democrats have swung against it by just 25 points.
That’s probably a result of the presidential campaign, which closed with 33 days of WikiLeaks dumps from the stolen emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. On the stump, Trump frequently drew applause simply by saying the word “WikiLeaks,” then drew more as he gave a quick-and-dirty version of an allegation from the emails. “Boy, we love WikiLeaks!” he told a mid-October crowd in North Carolina. Despite steady media coverage of the stolen emails, Trump also accused the press of suppressing their revelations.
Trump was not alone on the right. WikiLeaks stories rippled through conservative media, and some WikiLeaks revelations — like an exchange between liberal Catholic Clinton campaign staff in which they criticized their church leadership — were advanced or hyped by fitful Trump critics like House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
There’s been similar movement on the Putin question. In the summer of 2014, both Democrats and Republicans held negative views of the Russian president. His net negative rating with Democrats was 54 points; with Republicans, it was 66 points. At the time, the mainstream Republican foreign policy opinion was that a wily, aggressive Putin was rolling over U.S. interests in Europe. There was some punditry about Putin as a greater leader than President Obama, but it did not shift views of Putin himself.
Trump’s campaign did so. There’s been a 56-point positive shift among Republicans in their views of Putin; his net negative rating is now just 10 points. While Clinton voters view Putin negatively by 72 points, Trump voters do so by a slim 16-point margin.
During the campaign, Democratic attacks on Trump for his praise of Russia and Putin drew media attention but didn’t appear to move voters. Among the reasons: Many of the Republican voters seen as gettable by Democrats were more ready to shift their views of Russia than shift their views of Clinton.
The reason for this, as I have explained, is conservatives’ penchant for authoritarianism. Authoritarian Movement Conservatism threatens democracy.
The “Party of Lincoln” ceased to exist long ago. It has been transformed into an authoritarian movement, as former GOP operative Mike Lofgren described several years ago. Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult.
Abraham Lincoln was prescient of our current situation when he warned:
“From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia…could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.”