Republicans Can’t Settle on Ukraine Message

[Update: The attack on Ukraine has begun.]

Republicans are united in criticizing President Biden for the Ukraine crisis. However, they don’t agree on why Biden should be criticized.

Some are blaming Biden for being weak. This wouldn’t have happened if Biden were strong, like Trump. See Bess Levin, Republicans Claim Putin Wouldn’t Have Invaded Ukraine Under a Beefy Piece of Man Meat Like Trump, in Vanity Fair. (I had to link to that, just for the title.)

Claiming that “Biden becoming president is the best thing that ever happened…for Vladimir Putin,” Senator Ted Cruztold Fox News on Sunday that “Europe is on the verge of war because of the weakness, the fecklessness of Joe Biden.” The Texas lawmaker, who has been happy to do his part to spread Russian propaganda that benefits a man who claimed Cruz’s own father helped kill JFK, followed that up with a press release on Monday declaring that “Biden–Harris officials are to an enormous extent directly responsible for this crisis.”

Echoing those comments on Monday was Marco Rubio who, incidentally, has reportedly been happy to acceptpolitical donations from Len Blavatnik, a billionaire with “longstanding ties to oligarchs close to” Putin. Without referring to the president by name, though the reference was more than clear, the senator from Florida tweeted: “Weakness always invites aggression. And weakness in response to aggression always invites others to be aggressive as well.” Senator John Barrassotold Fox News last week that Biden “talked tough but Putin doesn’t respect statements, he only respects strength,” claiming the president of Russia “views President Biden as weak and ineffective and indecisive.” In January, Senator Tom Cotton blamed Putin’s aggression on “a year of Joe Biden’s impotence and incompetence towards Russia in particular and in foreign policy more generally,” somehow forgetting that Trump spent four years passionately kissing Putin’s ass.

I have reason to believe that Levin wrote this before Trump called Putin’s move on Ukraine “genius.”

Now, exactly what do these people mean by “strength? Is it standing submissively next to Putin in Helsinki and confessing he believed Putin’s “strong and powerful” denials over the analysis of U.S. intelligence agencies? Was it fawning over Putin like a lovesick puppy during World War I commemorations in France?

Many people have pointed out that the Republicans have not proposed a different approach to dealing with Ukraine. Seriously, they haven’t. They just think Biden should be stronger. But what does that mean?

Paul Waldman:

Though some Republicans say the sanctions at the center of Biden’s strategy should have started earlier, you’ll have a hard time finding one who can specify in any detail what Biden’s “weakness” toward Russia has consisted of to this point, nor what a “strong” president would be doing instead. Mounting a ground invasion to take Moscow? Launching nuclear weapons? What?

If the answer is “What Biden is doing, but, you know, more,” that’s not very persuasive. But as far as they’re concerned, “strength” isn’t something presidents demonstrate with their actions; it’s more of an ineffable quality that Republican presidents possess by definition while Democratic presidents lack.

I clearly remember that last week some people believed that Biden was the one causing the crisis in Ukraine, or at least he was causing panic over a non-crisis in Ukraine. Tucker Carlson has had a grand time making fun of Biden’s predictions that Russia would invade Ukraine. Now that the invasion has begun, it’s Joe Biden’s fault because he was too weak to stand up to Putin.

Waldman continues,

Consider Trump. Short of literally getting down on his hands and knees to shine Putin’s shoes, there’s almost no way you could imagine Trump having been weaker toward Putin than he actually was. Trump continually praised the Russian dictator, dismissed his misdeeds and went out of his way to denigrate NATO — just as Putin would want.

It culminated in the utterly disgraceful display at the 2018 summit in Helsinki, when Trump was asked about Russian interference in the 2016 election and declared he was taking Putin’s word over the analysis of U.S. intelligence agencies, because “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

It was so embarrassing that even Republicans were shocked; then-Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said Trump “made us look like a pushover.” Sen. John McCain called it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Nevertheless, today Republicans claim that when it came to Russia, Trump was a paragon of strength.

Yeah, not so strong. But the prize goes to Maria Bartiromo at Fox, who declared last week that the Ukraine crisis was a hoax.

“What about this hysteria that the State Department went through all weekend?” she asked. “Because on Friday, you’ve got [national security adviser] Jake Sullivan telling us that Russia would invade Ukraine today. I mean, to be so specific and all the leakers leaking that it was today, Wednesday to be so specific and then Joe Biden telling us, get out of Ukraine immediately.”

“Was this a ruse?” she continued. “Was this whole thing an effort to take everybody’s attention away from what Hillary Clinton did and what we know to be a complete hoax over this Russia investigation?” After all, she continued, Sullivan worked for Clinton, and he had been involved in “peddling this Russia collusion lie.”

Then there’s another faction of Republicans who have decided that the United States should just ignore what Putin is doing in Ukraine. From Politico,

But a vocal GOP minority on and off Capitol Hill — represented by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, among others — has taken a third path, actively arguing against any U.S. involvement in the region while still dinging Biden. They argue that expanding the U.S. commitment to NATO is a mistake, and that the president should instead focus on countering China and securing America’s southern border.

Ol’ Hee-Hawley is in way over his Ivy League-educated head, I bellieve. Poor Jack Danforth, who was a respectable Cold War-era Republican back in the day, must be mortified he helped Hawley get a start in politics.

This situation isn’t good for anybody. Expect energy prices to skyrocket; that’s hardly something Biden wants. But no, Josh, we can’t ignore this.