Trump’s continued praise of Putin further isolates him

Former Vice President Mike Pence split with his former boss on Friday night saying, 'There's no room in this party for apologists for Putin.'


National News

March 5, 2022 - 6:09 AM

President Donald Trump comments on the Putin meeting during a meeting with members of Congress Tuesday in Washington, D.C. in 2019.

WASHINGTON (AP) — From the earliest days of his first presidential campaign, Donald Trump aggressively challenged the pillars of Republican foreign policy that defined the party since World War II.

He mocked John McCain’s capture during the Vietnam War, validated autocrats with his platitudes, questioned longtime military and security alliances and embraced an isolationist worldview. And to the horror of many GOP leaders at the time, it worked, resonating with voters who believed, in part, that a bipartisan establishment in Washington had brokered trade deals that hurt American workers and recklessly stumbled into so-called “forever wars.”

But Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is posing a serious test for Trump and his “America First” doctrine at a moment when he is eyeing another presidential run and using this year’s midterm elections to keep bending the GOP to his will. He’s largely alone in his sustained praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin as “smart,” an assessment he reiterated last week during speeches to donors and conservative activists. His often deferential vice president, Mike Pence, split with him on the issue late Friday.

The multinational partnerships that Trump repeatedly undermined, meanwhile, have allowed the West to quickly band together to hobble Russia’s economy with coordinated sanctions. The NATO alliance, which Trump once dismissed as “obsolete,” is flexing its strength as a foil to Russia’s aggression.

Perhaps most fundamentally, the war is a fresh reminder, observers say, that the U.S. can’t simply ignore the world’s problems, even if that’s sometimes a politically appealing way to connect with voters facing their own daily struggles.

This is a brutal wake-up call to both parties that not only are we not going to be able to do less in the world, we are going to have to do more.Richard Haass, ouncil on Foreign Relations

“This is a brutal wake-up call to both parties that not only are we not going to be able to do less in the world,” said Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former diplomat. “We are going to have to do more.”

While he argued that large elements of both parties have demonstrated a desire to turn inward, the current situation poses a “special problem” for Republicans and the “America firsters” who have previously tried to paint Russia has a benign actor.

“The entire thrust of America First, I would argue, was misguided in a world where what happens anywhere can and will affect us,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the Western unity that has taken hold against Russia can be sustained if the war escalates, expands beyond Ukraine or drags on indefinitely. And after two decades of U.S. foreign policy failures, including the Iraq War and the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, many Americans are approaching the moment with caution.

On the eve of Russia’s invasion, just 26% of Americans said they supported the U.S. playing a major role in the conflict, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

But the challenges to Trump’s approach to the world are clear.

Sweden and Finland have abandoned their long-held neutrality and warmed to the idea of joining NATO, expanding an alliance Trump continued to criticize this week. Germany, a country Trump spent years trying to browbeat into spending more on its defense, broke its longstanding post-World War II policy by sending anti-tank weapons and surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine and pledging to dramatically increase its defense budget.

Trump and his allies insist that Russia would never have invaded Ukraine were he still president. And Russia did not make aggressive moves on his watch, something former aides and others credit to his erratic behavior and direct threats that left world leaders uncertain of how Trump would respond to a provocation.

Roger Zakheim, the Washington director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, credited Trump for deterring Putin, who he said had “validated the need for allies to invest more in their security and defense.”