COMMENTARY

Ignore the GOP's sudden pivot, Republicans have long worked to undermine Ukraine

It's a stunningly disingenuous reversal

By Heather Digby Parton

Published March 4, 2022 10:02AM (EST)

Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

In light of the brutal carnage being perpetrated by the Russian army on Ukraine this week, it's good to see that most Republicans have found it in themselves to finally condemn the invasion. It obviously wasn't easy for them. As we've just witnessed with the pandemic, they hate to be on the same side as a Democratic president for any reason, no matter how high the body count is. But they have come around, with even the most reluctant Republican now rallying to the side of the Ukrainian people. In fact, some of them have gone so far in the opposite direction that they have become reckless and dangerous:

That may be one of the most irresponsible comments by a sitting U.S. senator in modern memory.  When Graham repeated it on Fox News, even Laura Ingraham was left bewildered.

Of course, many Republicans still blame President Joe Biden for failing to prevent the crisis.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas declared that Vladimir Putin didn't invade while Donald Trump was in office because Trump was so tough on him, which is, of course, laughable. Cruz's evidence is the sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline (which Trump didn't even sign into law until the end of his term.) But former national security adviser John Bolton claimed that Trump actually fought all of the sanctions every step of the way, adding, "the fact is that he barely knew where Ukraine was. He once asked John Kelly, his second chief of staff, if Finland were a part of Russia."

And in a stunning reversal, after boldly insisting for months that he supported Russia over Ukraine, even extolling the virtues of Vladimir Putin, last night Fox News host Tucker Carlson even admitted he was wrong ... sort of.

He claimed that he didn't think the threat was real because Joe Biden had allegedly sent Vice President Kamala Harris to "fix" it so it couldn't have been that serious. (The president did not send Harris to fix it.) Nobody does smug, unctuous trolling quite like Tucker Carlson.

Nonetheless, it does appear that Republicans have finally recognized that their admiration for the Russian strongman Vladimir Putin may have been a bit of a bad look. And I'm sure they are hoping that no one will remember the last few years of smears and false charges against Ukraine, all designed to create the false narrative that it was Ukraine that interfered in the 2016 election rather than Russia, on behalf of Hillary Clinton instead of Trump.

Recall that Trump said something very specific on that "perfect" phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky that had nothing to do with Hunter Biden and Joe Biden's alleged corruption. It came right after the "I'd like you to do us a favor, though."

 I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you're surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine.

Trump was pushing a convoluted lie that the alleged "missing DNC server" (which was not missing) was in Ukraine and he seemed to suggest that Zelensky could do him a solid by producing "evidence" that would suggest that Russia was framed for hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2016. As for the reference to Crowdstrike, the internet security company which was hired by the DNC to investigate the hack, Trump was convinced that the company was based in Ukraine and owned by a wealthy Ukrainian Oligarch, none of which was true. (The company's headquarters is in Sunnyvale, California, and the company's co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch is a Russian-born U.S. citizen who emigrated as a child.

Nonetheless, this and other bogus conspiracy theories were all over the right-wing fever swamp and gained even more currency when the impeachment battles over Trump's call commenced. One of the most prominent was the idea that the Ukraine government had actually interfered in the 2016 election because a prominent official and some others had made public statements critical of Donald Trump, which a group of right-wing journalists ginned up into a convoluted conspiracy. That opened the door to a full-blown narrative that Ukraine framed Russia for the hacks with the help of Democratic operatives in order to take down Trump — and naturally, it was anti-Trump Deep State actors saying that Russia was behind the 2016 election interference.

In reality, intelligence officials had concluded that this entire Ukraine storyline had been concocted by Russia. Putin even joked at one point that he was glad the world was finally blaming Ukraine instead of him.

And then there was Rudy Giuliani, working ostensibly on behalf of the president in a private capacity, pressuring Ukrainian officials, working with every unsavory character in the region and constantly appearing on television spreading progressively more baroque conspiracy theories.

He was not the only one:

When the House held its first impeachment hearings, the Republicans on the committee, led by Trump henchman then-congressman Devin Nunes (now CEO of Trump's fledgling social media platform), went full bore with this alleged conspiracy that Ukraine was the real culprit. The Washington Post described it as the "central point of focus" in their defense of Trump's actions, with Republicans like John Kennedy of Louisiana and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin repeating the same charges over on the Senate side.

So, this was not a fringe theory nor Trump and Rudy getting a wild hair. And it wasn't just a way to hurt Joe Biden. The entire GOP establishment went along with this inane, phony charge that a corrupt Ukrainian government had conspired with Hillary Clinton to interfere in the 2016 election and they defended Trump withholding vital military aid to the country in service of his conspiracy-addled political goals. They all (with a small handful of exceptions) actively undermined the security of a small nation that was trying desperately to defend itself against a very aggressive adversary — an aggressive adversary that was manipulating the very foolish, very unfit US president.

They are now praising Ukraine and pledging to help, which is important in this moment of crisis. But it's hard to imagine how they sleep at night or look at themselves in the mirror in the morning after what they did. 


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Commentary Donald Trump Gop Republicans Russia Trump Impeachment Ukraine