Putin has just played Donald Trump like Kim Jong-un did.
Our grandparents generation fought against the Nazi's and against Soviet Russia because they understood they were implacable foes of the United States and its Constitution.
Our grandparents generation recognized their hard won freedoms were under relentless attack from sinister agents in Europe and Russia and they responded forcefully to the threat every time.
But here is something that they never anticipated: in recent years Russian agents have been advocating for closer ties between Republicans and Russia itself, citing all their supposed “shared values” and their “social conservatism,” as well as supporting a "combined" response to the threat of Islamic terrorism.
Last week we watched with horror just how subservient Trump can become in the presence of Vladimir Putin.
Outrage followed his risible performance at Helsinki, which saw him harshly criticizing US citizens and even his own country from the dais; outrage from all but Republican circles, that is. They mostly stayed quiet as the nation and the world fumed.
What Putin has astutely recognized is that conservative Republican activists here believe they are locked in a decades long culture war and race struggle that has become so embattled they might welcome foreign assistance to finally defeat their sworn enemies: their fellow Americans.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Putin's plan is quite simple: “Moscow seeks to create wedges that reduce trust and confidence in democratic processes, degrade democratization efforts, weaken U.S. partnerships with their European allies, undermine Western sanctions..."
During Trump's European visit last week he attacked NATO, treated our allies as though they were our enemies, stood shoulder to shoulder with a ruthless autocrat and then bluntly attacked the American free press. Fait accompli. It looks like every Russian bullet point in the Justice Department's to-do list has been ticked by Moscow.
And if the Russians have been relentlessly targeting Republicans that's because they have properly understood that's where the support for extremism and authoritarianism is.
Butina ardently supported Donald Trump for president and she attended the National Prayer Breakfast, a sort of Christian conservative NASCAR, to make further inroads and common cause with Republican Christians.
At all of these events, and then later online, she argued forcefully for closer ties between Russia and the United States, telling Republicans that Vladimir Putin shares their “values” and “outlook.” He's really one of you, she wrote. As am I, she continued, I'm really a Republican too. They all bought it. The gap is closing.
Butina then reportedly brought an NRA delegation to Russia to meet with a hastily assembled Russian “gun rights” group, but the real purpose of the trip it now looks certain was to court activist Republicans and convince them all of their common “cause.”
National opinion polls have demonstrated Republican support and admiration for Vladimir Putin's Russia is only growing, despite his obvious authoritarianism.
Most Republicans know Putin is a thug whose critics have an alarming tendency to be shot or poisoned, most know and accept that Russia launched a cyberattack on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and likely aided Trump's. They simply don't care.
A recent Pew poll found that the number of Republicans expressing admiration for Putin doubled from 17 percent in 2015 to 34 percent in 2017. Fully two thirds of Republicans approved of Trump's performance in Helsinki and when asked about Russian cyberattacks they simply shrugged. Our man won, why worry?
“Among GOP voters, 58 percent view the Russian leader as an ally.” https://t.co/Zp694S7SWZ— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) July 25, 2018
Gun nuts and evangelicals represent Trump's base, which is why alleged Russian agents like Butina have relentlessly targeted them. Macho, militaristic, racist and homophobic, they apparently share the white ethno-nationalist outlook of their Russian counterpoints, just without the Bond villain accents.So Putin and his agents have been busy undermining America from within. His long game has been to turn the GOP's activists against their fellow citizens, under the larger banner of shared white Christian solidarity. It appears to be working, too.
It's quite clear now that Putin's plan to weaponize white grievance and then turn it on our own nation is succeeding. If we want to live in the land our grandparents fought for we will have to recognize this fact and respond.