Trump’s praise of Putin, ‘America First’ view tested by war

Mar 5, 2022, 12:30 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 3:38 pm
FILE: Former President Donald Trump (photo by Pete Marovich for The New York Times)...

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,” 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.”

“I think President Trump, at least at it related to Ukraine, was able to deter Vladimir Putin. And that was a function of unpredictability, which is valuable to deterring an autocrat like Vladimir Putin,” he said. Still, he argued Putin’s actions had been “so aggressive and so brazen and so immoral” that it had “de-emphasized the difference” between various foreign policy approaches.

Still, the war renews focus on the controversial role Ukraine played during Trump’s tenure, particularly the way the then-president used defense of the struggling country as a bargaining tool to improve his domestic political standing.

Trump was impeached for the first time for trying to pressure Ukraine to investigate his 2020 Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden. The effort included holding up nearly $400 million in U.S. security aid to Ukraine and leveraging an Oval Office visit that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had been requesting.

Trump also pushed discredited claims that Ukraine, not Russia, had meddled in the 2016 election, repeatedly siding with Putin over his own national intelligence agencies.

“Putin is the critical agent, but certainly Trump contributed to it with his scheme back then and continued to contribute it by undermining national security,” said retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel Alexander Vindman, the former national security council whistleblower who raised alarms about Trump’s pressure tactics. “Ultimately the president undermined U.S. foreign policy because he weakened Ukraine.”

As he aims to play a significant role in this year’s midterms and potentially run for president again in 2024, Trump has shown little interest in calibrating his approach to Putin.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been laying the groundwork for his own potential presidential run, has largely abandoned the language he was criticized for using before the invasion, when had called Putin “very capable” and said he had “enormous respect for him.” Even Tucker Carlson, the popular Fox News host who had openly questioned why he shouldn’t side with Russia over Ukraine, has tried to walk back his pro-Russia rhetoric, saying, “We’ve been taken by surprise by the whole thing.”

That’s left Trump relatively isolated, defending his decision to label Putin as “smart” and criticizing the response from Biden and other Western leaders, even as he has denounced the invasion as “horrific” and a “very sad thing for the world.”

“NATO has the money now, but they’re not doing the job they should be doing,” he said this week on Fox Business. “It’s almost like they’re staying away.”

That has earned rebuke from some in his party.

In a speech to GOP donors Friday night, Pence forcefully defended NATO and admonished those who have defended Putin as he, too, weighs a presidential run.

“There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin,” he said, according to his prepared remarks. “There is only room for champions of freedom.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News there “should be no confusion about Vladimir Putin.

“He’s a thug. He’s a killer,” McConnell said. “He’s been on the rampage and this will not end well for him.”

Chris Stirewalt, a senior fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute think tank and a contributing editor of The Dispatch, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is fundamentally different from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that turned large swaths of the American public against foreign intervention and which Trump was able to use to his political advantage.

“Putin,” he said, “has undone so much of what Trump and nationalists in the United States had done to change the global order.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

FILE PHOTO (Deseret News)...
Rio Yamat, Associated Press

‘Dances With Wolves’ actor arrested in Nevada sex abuse case

Las Vegas police have arrested former actor Nathan Chasing Horse at his home after uncovering what they describe as two decades of sexual assault and human trafficking allegations.
1 day ago
A man accused of kidnapping and torturing a woman in southwest Oregon knew his victim before the at...
Lucy Kafanov, Elizabeth Wolfe and Jeremy Harlan

Man accused of severely beating, kidnapping Oregon woman knew his victim, police say

A man accused of kidnapping and torturing a woman in southwest Oregon knew his victim before the attack, police tell CNN, as the week-long search for the suspect continues.
1 day ago
Artic weather leads to canceled flights...
Lilit Marcus, CNN

More than 1,800 flights canceled Tuesday, hundreds more on Wednesday

More than 1,800 flights were canceled and many more were delayed on Tuesday as a brutal ice storm continued to hit parts of the South and central United States, bringing a second day of transport problems.
1 day ago
The booking photo for Aaron Michael Zeman, also known as Tadashi Kura Kojima. ( Hall County Departm...
Michael Houck

Layton Amber Alert suspect charged with kidnapping, sexual exploitation of a minor

The Arizona man who is suspected of kidnapping a Layton boy has been charged with multiple felonies Tuesday. 
1 day ago
Priscilla Presley speaks at the public memorial for Lisa Marie Presley at Graceland on January 22, ...
Andrew Dalton, Associated Press

Priscilla Presley disputes trust of late Lisa Marie Presley

Priscilla Presley has filed legal documents disputing who oversees the estate of her late daughter Lisa Marie Presley.
1 day ago
This photo provided by the Dallas Zoo shows an emperor tamarins that lives at the zoo. Two monkeys ...
Andi Babineau and Elizabeth Wolfe

After monkeys stolen and animals enclosures cut open, Dallas Zoo releases photo of suspect

For the fourth time this month, the Dallas Zoo finds tampering with their animals and their enclosures, including one dead bird.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t Let a Ransomware Attack Get You Down | Protect Your Workplace Today with Cyber Insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Trump’s praise of Putin, ‘America First’ view tested by war