More than three-quarters of American voters disapprove of instances when lawmakers have expressed support or admiration for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Other Republicans, like Sen. Ron Johnson, are distributors of Russian disinformation.
Seventy-one percent of American voters disapprove of former President Donald Trump’s recent comments praising Russian dictator Vladimir Putin as “pretty smart,” “savvy,” and a “genius,” according to a new Courier Newsroom/Data for Progress poll.
In contrast, only 17% of voters approve of Trump’s comments, which he made during a Feb. 22 radio interview and Feb. 23 speech at his Mar-a-Lago club, less than 48 hours prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The survey of 1,200 likely voters was conducted between March 11 and 14. The poll also found that 77% of voters, including 68% of Republican voters, disapprove of instances in recent years when other Republican lawmakers have expressed support or admiration for Putin.
Voters who’ve heard of these Putin-friendly comments may disapprove, but most voters are unaware that some Republican lawmakers have been playing footsie with Putin. Only 19% of voters said they had read or heard about Republican politicians expressing support or admiration of Putin in the previous week. Another forty percent said they had heard “a little,” and 41% said they’d read or heard “nothing at all” about such comments.
The list of Republican lawmakers and media figures who both before and after the invasion have taken Putin’s side—or blamed the US, Ukraine, and Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelenskyy for the war—is extensive and includes Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson.
Johnson, who in 2018 famously spent a July 4 holiday in Moscow with Putin’s inner circle, tried to pin the blame for the Russian invasion on the Democrats’ first impeachment of Trump. In 2019, Trump withheld critical aid to Ukraine and tried to pressure Zelenskyy to investigate then-candidate Joe Biden. To hear Johnson tell it, this impeachment is why Putin invaded Ukraine.
“I don’t think Vladmir Putin would have moved on Ukraine were it not for the weakness displayed—certainly by the Biden administration but also by the west in general,” Johnson said on a recent Sunday morning talk show. “And I’m certainly hoping that Col. [Alexander] Vindman, [US Rep.] Adam Schiff, [Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi, who used Ukraine as a pawn in their impeachment travesty are also recognizing, reflecting how they weakened Ukraine, weakened the west, weakened America by the divisive politics that they play.”
Johnson also spent much of the 2020 presidential campaign trying unsuccessfully to link the Hillary Clinton campaign or President Joe Biden’s son Hunter with the spreading of Russian disinformation—claims that have been repeatedly debunked. The FBI went so far as to warn him that he was a likely target for Russian attempts to sow division in the United States. Johnson not only ignored it but said he believed the FBI was acting in coordination with Democrats to create the warning as a tactic to smear him.
Other members of Congress from Wisconsin have voted against measures meant to punish Russia for its brutal invasion and slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians.
US Reps. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and Glenn Grothman (R-Glenbeulah) were among only 17 Republican lawmakers to vote against a ban on Russian oil earlier this month. And days later, Grothman was one of only eight US House members to vote against a proposal to retract Russia’s “most favored nation” trade status. The other “no” votes make up a who’s who of the congressional fringe: Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Chip Roy of Texas, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, and Thomas Massie of Kentucky.
Johnson did blame Putin and “his cronies” for the “atrocities” being committed in Ukraine—rhetoric that goes further than some other conservatives have gone. Indeed, while some politicians have joined Johnson in expanding on or walking back their unpopular comments, others haven’t. Here’s a not-so-short list documenting some of the extreme comments from what Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming described as the “Putin wing” of the Republican Party and the conservative media establishment:
- Congresswoman Greene has blamed Ukraine for being invaded. “You see Ukraine just kept poking the bear, poking the bear, which is Russia, and Russia invaded,” Taylor Greene said during an interview. “And the hard truth is … there is no win for Ukraine here. Russia is being very successful in their invasion.” Greene previously voted against giving Ukraine $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian assistance and against suspending normal trade relations with Russia.
- In early March, more than a week into Russia’s brutal invasion into Ukraine, North Carolina Congressman Madison Cawthorn described Zelenskyy as a “thug” and the Ukrainian government as “incredibly evil.”
- Former Trump advisor and longtime Republican consultant Roger Stone pinned the blame for Russia’s invasion on Ukraine and the US, amplifying an unhinged conspiracy theory that the US funded “biolabs” throughout Ukraine to develop and release a bioweapon or virus, and that Russia invaded to take over the labs. “There are in fact bio labs [in Ukraine] funded by our tax dollar,” Stone claimed. “Putin is acting defensively.” This, of course, is untrue. But Stone and other conservatives’ claims have proved useful fodder for Kremlin propaganda.
- In March, former Trump campaign manager and White House advisor Steve Bannon told Republicans they should refuse to give Ukraine any aid. “No Republican should vote for any money for Ukraine. $0 for Ukraine,” Bannon said during an episode of his podcast. Ultimately, 69 House Republicans and 31 Senate Republicans voted against giving Ukraine $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian assistance.
- Three days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Arizona State. Sen. Wendy Rogers resorted to anti-Semitic tropes and said “Zelensky[y] is a globalist puppet for Soros and the Clintons.” Rogers’ extremism is so vast that it’s made her a pariah among her own Senate colleagues in Arizona.
- Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, Fox News host Laura Ingraham insulted Zelenskyy’s plea for peace. “We had kind of a really pathetic display from the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, earlier today,” Ingraham said during a call with former President Trump, “He was essentially imploring Vladimir Putin not to invade his country.”
- Conservative pundit Candace Owens has blamed the US and Zelenskyy for Putin’s invasion. In February, she tweeted that “WE are at fault,” and in March, she described Zelenskyy as a “very bad character who is working with globalists against the interests of his own people.”
- Just days prior to Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Fox News Host and Kremlin favorite Tucker Carlson wondered aloud why Americans should hate Putin, a tyrant who has had his political opponents jailed and killed. “Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?” Playing footsie with Putin is nothing new for Carlson. In December 2019, Carlson said “I think we should probably take the side of Russia, if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine.”
- Hours before Putin’s invasion, avowed white Christian nationalist Nick Fuentes said he wished that Putin was the president of the US. “I am totally rooting for Russia,” he added the following morning. “This is the coolest thing to happen since 1/6”—referencing the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol on Jan. 6 2021. Fuentes also called Putin his “Czar” and said “UKRAINE WILL BE DESTROYED.”
- Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones praised a pre-war speech from Putin in which he said Ukraine had no right to exist as an independent country. “It’s so weird to tune into a world leader and just truth’s coming out,” Jones said. Instead, Jones said his audience should focus on the “globalist” powers.
- In February, JD Vance, a Republican candidate for Senate in Ohio, said “I gotta be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other.”
- Charlie Kirk, leader of the conservative group Turning Point USA, tried to downplay Putin’s invasion before it happened. “It feels as if Putin is going into places that want him,” Kirk said last month. “They have voted overwhelmingly to be part of it. It is a family dispute that we shouldn’t get in the midst of, that’s for certain.”
- In early February, former Trump advisor Michael Flynn called Putin a “very strong leader” who would not “put up with the nonsense he’s seeing in Europe.”
In January, Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar saidthat “we have no dog in the Ukraine fight.” Gosar later voted against aid for Ukraine, against suspending normal trade relations with Russia, and against a symbolic measure calling for a cease-fire and to support the Ukrainian people.