At the moment when freedom-loving people around the world are elated (if on tenterhooks) at the progress of Ukrainian forces in pushing back the Russian invaders, Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, has joined with other self-styled conservative groups to oppose helping Ukraine fight for its life. I know, I know, the Trumpification of the GOP has been a fact for six years, and yet this heel turn is remarkable. It’s as if People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced that they support puppy mills for medical research.
The pro-Putin, pro-authoritarian voices in the GOP are not yet a majority — about a quarter of House Republicans and 11 of 50 Senators voted against the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine in May — but they’re not a small minority either, and the wind is at their backs. CPAC has all but canonized Hungary’s strongman Viktor Orban, and in the first hours after Putin rolled into Ukraine, Trump reveled in the murderer’s “savvy” and “genius.” The 2022 election could bring more authoritarian-friendly Republicans to Congress, and meanwhile, hatcheries of conservative orthodoxy like Fox News and The Federalist are doing the spade work of persuading the base that Kremlin propaganda is more trustworthy — pravda, if you will — than The New York Times.
Just two weeks ago, Tucker Carlson, Putin’s favorite American broadcaster (clips from his show are routinely featured on Russian state TV), told viewers that Biden’s steadfast support of Ukraine was absurd: “Biden is calling for an unconditional surrender from Vladimir Putin. Here’s the weird thing: By any actual reality-based measure, Vladimir Putin is not losing the war in Ukraine.”
Poor timing. But that’s the least of it. It was bad enough to excuse Putin before February 24 on the risible grounds that he represented some sort of Christian champion and scourge of wokeness. But after? That a spokesman for a so-called conservative TV network can cheer the rape of a free country (Carlson has said he “roots” for Russia to win) is not just morally depraved, it violates the basic tenets of what used to be conservatism. American conservatives once believed that freedom was our most precious inheritance. We were friends to all freedom-loving people and foes of all tyrants. Speaking on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, Ronald Reagan said this to the aging soldiers who had scaled the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc:
“You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt. You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.”
Now it’s goodbye to all that apparently. J.D. Vance, Trump’s hand-picked candidate for an Ohio Senate seat has said he doesn’t care one way or the other what happens to Ukraine. The Federalist denounces Mitch McConnell (who traveled to Ukraine to show support) and other “swamp creatures” for putting Ukraine’s security needs ahead of America’s. The vapidity of this new “conservatism” is bottomless. They haven’t bothered to consider that brutal aggression by a larger against a smaller state invites a Hobbesian international disorder in which no one is safe.
A number of Republicans have seized on the talking point that Biden is more concerned with Ukraine’s border than with our southern border. Blake Masters, the Peter Thiel-conjured Republican nominee for senate in Arizona, sneered that America’s leaders are “buffoons who hate you so … they’ll keep defending Ukraine’s borders while turning their backs on ours.” Rep. Mary Miller and her ilk found this irresistibly witty and repeated it.
As if thousands of would-be immigrants attempting to cross the Rio Grande for work represent a comparable threat to tanks and missiles destroying cities, murdering men, women and children, creating millions of refugees, and cutting off food and electricity. This talk of “invasion” of our southern border was always hyperbolic, but to cling to it at a time when our screens are full of images of a true invasion becomes vile.
These supposed conservatives are strangers to the most important themes of traditional conservatism. They dishonor the name. Conservatism was a worldview intimately bound up with opposition to tyranny. Of course we fell short of our aspirations from time to time, but love of freedom was in our DNA — or so it seemed. Our hearts were with oppressed peoples from Lithuania to Tibet to Tehran. We cheered the fall of the Berlin Wall because the USSR was a comprehensive, seven-decade assault on human dignity. We hated it for its repression of speech, thought, religion, movement and enterprise. We hated it for its torrent of lies.
Putin’s Russia differs from the USSR in ideology, but in repression and rapacity, it is comparable. And it’s scarcely believable that the “useful idiots” who make excuses for it today — who actually root for its success — are “conservatives.”
Mona Charen is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
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