By Stuart Stevens
Let’s play a simple game: Who said it? Which of these quotes are from Vladimir Putin’s recent speech, and which are from a MAGA Republican?
I get asked this question a lot: How did it happen? How did the Republican party, which had been for decades the home for the most consistent antagonists to Russia, become home to the pro-Putin element in American politics?
On one level, there is a very simple cause and effect. It has been a goal of Russia from the era of the Bolsheviks to attack and destabilize Western democracy. That goal has remained constant from Stalin to Putin. In 2015, the Russian security services launched an operation to help elect Donald Trump. As the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in its final report:
“The Committee found that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian effort to hack computer networks and accounts affiliated with the Democratic Party and leak information damaging to Hillary Clinton and her campaign for president. Moscow's intent was to harm the Clinton Campaign, tarnish an expected Clinton presidential administration, help the Trump Campaign after Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, and undermine the U.S. democratic process.”
One of the main players in the Russian covert action was Yevgeny Prigozhin, now under US indictment for his actions. That’s the same Yevgeny Prigozhin who runs the mercenary gang of rapists, murderers, and thieves called the Wagner Group fighting for Russia in its war of genocide in Ukraine. You may have seen their videos executing Wagner Group deserters with sledgehammers. Prigozhin said: "We have interfered (in U.S. elections), we are interfering, and we will continue to interfere. Carefully, accurately, surgically, and in our own way, as we know how to do."
The Russian candidate was elected President of the United States. Six years later, the pro-Putin element of American politics is within the Republican party. The second most powerful member of the House of Representatives, Marjorie Taylor Greene, is fighting to cut off all aid to Ukraine. The star of the Republican’s 2022 Senate class, Ohio’s J.D. Vance, has said, “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine.” It’s entirely possible that the pro-Putin wing of the Republican party may have enough influence to tip the balance of support for Ukraine just enough to win the war for Russia.
But why did a major part of the Republican party fall in love with the idea of Vladimir Putin’s Russia? They see in Russia the world in which they want to live: a world run by white men, where non-heterosexuals are kept in their rightful place, where women understand their role and never challenge men. Once conservatives held up America as the beacon of democracy, “the last best hope of earth,” as President Lincoln declared in the darkest days of the Civil War. Now MAGA Republicans look to Russia as the beacon of Anti-Wokeness, the last best hope for white Christian heterosexual men and the women who exist to give birth to their children.
In Russia, the state routinely does what the Ron DeSantis administration has fought to do in Florida: punish those in the business world who do not support the leader’s agenda. When you see images of Russian soldiers destroying Ukrainian history books, they are a role model for Ron DeSantis destroying African American history courses. When Ron DeSantis pushes laws to make it illegal for gay teachers to admit they are gay, his ideal is Russia, where Putin has proclaimed, “There are no homosexuals in Russia.” When Ron DeSantis makes attacking transgender Americans the centerpiece of his cultural war, he is simply copying Putin, who mockingly asks, “Do we really want our kids to have it drilled into their heads that there are more genders than sexes?”
Like many, I was drawn to the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan, who stood in Berlin and demanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Now the Republican Party is desperately trying to recreate the world that exists on the other side of that wall. Those who believe we can reform today’s Republican Party are as naïve as those whom they once attacked for believing the Soviet Union could become a liberal democracy. There is no possibility for reform in Putin’s Russia or in Ron DeSantis’s Republican Party. There is only one solution: they must lose. They must be defeated. Only then is it possible to imagine decency and humane values replacing the hate and oppression at the core of the Putin-MAGA worlds.
1. Vladimir Putin
2. Ron DeSantis
3. Vladimir Putin
4. Tucker Carlson
5. Vladimir Putin
6. Laura Ingraham
7. Vladimir Putin
8. Rick Santorum