Donald Trump

Why the Conservative Admiration of Putin Is Dangerous

The love for Putin reflects a genuine shift in Republican voters.

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Donald Trump admires Russian President Vladimir Putin's strength and "great control over his country." So naturally, conservative supporters like Hugh Hewitt, Dinesh D'Souza and many others felt compelled to praise the effectiveness of the Russian strongman, especially when compared to President Barack Obama.

First of all, remember that when Trump's con game is over, you'll still be one of the people who defended an authoritarian thug.

Then again, this growing Putin admiration among conservatives probably reflects two dynamics. The first, which we've seen on numerous fronts in this election, is the corrosive effect this Republican nominee has on the principles and long-held beliefs of conservatives in general.

Rationalizing your nominee's inconsistencies isn't unique. It's conventional behavior from partisans in every election, in every political party. What makes 2016 different is:

  • Conservatives find themselves outside their comfort zone, sometimes taking positions that contradict 40 years of philosophical positioning.
  • Trump's stances don't oscillate; they thrust in unknowable directions all the time, oftentimes more than once a day. Keeping up can make a partisan look more like a shady apparatchik.

The second, far more concerning aspect of this trend is that love for Putin likely reflects a genuine (once latent) shift among Republican voters. There's a lot of talk about how elites and the ruling class have led the nation to a candidate like Trump. It seems to me that in many ways, Trump's fans pine for their own muscular ruling class.

Well, if you're a fan of unaccountable plutocrats, you'll love Putin's Russia.

Some conservatives try to couch their appreciation for Putin's potency in relativistic terms. You know, "He does what's right for his country," he "fights for Russia's interest," etc. Who are we to judge, right? But why would any allegedly freedom-loving conservative allow a dictatorial ruler to define what "love of country" means anywhere? Wouldn't a conservative maintain that the fundamental interests of any people—to be freer and more prosperous, which in turn makes them safer and less bellicose—are universal?

It's also worth pointing out that Trump praised Putin's "control" of his country, not his foreign policy. That's something his defenders seem to ignore.

Trump is helping normalize the idea that we need a strong president who gets things done, regardless of how he goes about it, rather than one who navigates through the messy, slow-moving swamp of republican governance. He's not alone, of course. It's basically a coarser version of Obama's contention (no, I'm not saying Putin and Obama are the same) that he has a moral duty to circumvent the legislative process on issues he finds particularly important. Or Tom Friedman's notion (others share it) that China should be praised for its commitment on climate change, no matter how it gets that done. Like anyone else, there are Americans willing to embrace authoritian methods if it means forwarding their cause, especially in the case of a national emergency.

Russia has a lot of order but little freedom. No one has more "control" over his nation than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Crime rates are super low, I hear. Things get done. There's no political "obstructionism." No doubt, other tyrants love their people and country deeply, too. No one has ever pursued the geopolitical goals of Moscow with more vigor and "strength" than Joseph Stalin. Would we praise him as an effective leader or patriot?

Or should Obama invade Canada to show how much he cares about American interests? There are lots of expats up there, you know.

Now, if you don't believe Obama has pursued the right foreign policy (and I don't), it's not a violation of The Logan Act. That's why we have elections. But was Obama unable to conduct foreign policy because he lacked the strength? If so, then we should celebrate. Obama abuses power enough. I'd hate to see what he or any other president would do with even more control.

For example, Putin would never have to worry about asking the Senate to sign a self-destructive climate deal with China. Obama, despite all the fanfare, couldn't get it done. Would conservatives admire him more if he found a way to make the climate deal binding and projected power and effectiveness? One hopes not.

The oligarchs Putin has empowered to run Russia don't help their people. Despite its wealth of natural resources, the CIA puts Russia's growth domestic product per capita right under that of French Polynesia, and right above that of Aruba. The Russian state feeds perpetual conflict that only benefits the powerful—one of the hallmarks of fascism. We have to live with Russia, and we may even have to partner with Russia on occasion. But once we start praising human-rights-violating thugs, we risk becoming accessories to his power, and worse, adopting some ugly ideas.

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  1. If the Russians had arganized a coup in Canada with the aim of pulling them into their sphere of influence and moving their military forces to the US border I think Harsanyi would be all for invasion. Putin is no angel but we deal with much worse actors (the Saudis, the Chinese plutocrats, etc) on a regular basis. When it comes to international politics, he’s neither an angel nor a devil.

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  2. When did a willingness to work with Russia, and to avoid needlessly antagonizing them become dangerous, and just calling Putin a thug become statesmanship?

    I can’t believe so many people want to start Cold War part 2.

    1. I suggest that Reason Magazine form out of their editors and writers the “International Anti-Putin Brigade” and march themselves off to the New Cold War.

      1. I don’t understand where you see anyone advocating for a New Cold War. Harsanyi appears to be a realist on the subject of Putin:

        We have to live with Russia, and we may even have to partner with Russia on occasion. But once we start praising human-rights-violating thugs, we risk becoming accessories to his power, and worse, adopting some ugly ideas.

        Will Russia start to recruiting American malcontents, educating them them in subversive tactics at Crimean training camps? I think DJF might belong on a watchlist to prevent such an occurrence.

        1. “”I think DJF might belong on a watchlist to prevent such an occurrence.”””

          I am sure that some so-called libertarians here would inform on me to Homeland Security due to my unapproved of thoughts

          1. Is that what this new “Report spam” button is for? That’s how I’ve been using it

            1. The NSA does not have all those hard wired connections into servers around the world for nothing.

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          2. I would, but not for any patriotic reasons, more as a goof.

          3. It was rhetorical.

            I admit that I am reading a lot into your comments. But if your sentiment is that America needs a great, strong leader like Putin, then your thought are unapproved by me. Not that that’s worth anything.

            1. How do you define a “great and strong leader”

              Obama has overthrown the Libyan government

              Obama has assisted in overthrowing the Ukraine government

              Obama is trying to overthrow the Syrian government.

              Obama has taken over large parts of the medical industry in the US

              Obama has used executive power to ignore some laws and make up new ones

              Some people think he is a great and strong leader, I don’t. As to Putin its up to the Russian people to judge him

        2. I don’t see the point in praising him.

          Just live with him.

          There’s your foreign policy with Russia.

          1. ^this. People are trying to hard to bitch at Reason and/or defend Trump’s asinine, steadfast praise of Putin.

            Nobody says we should start a war with Russia (that’s a bullshit strawman). We just don’t think it’s brilliant to praise an authoritarian like Putin for seemingly no reason whatsoever.

            1. *too hard…

        3. Putin is a thug, but I suggest we all sign a petition asking him to assassinate the Soros family and send it to him. Maybe he will be the one to expunge those monsters from the planet.

    2. Pretty good straw man they’re putting up to keep people from seeing that issue. Sure, I’ve seen for years now, esp. among the alt.right, general praise for Putin. But that’s been mixed with the issue here, a willingness to work with Russia and/or Putin. The conflation works both ways, though. Some were using it to needlessly sweeten the argument for working with the Russians. But others are tying opposition to Putin’s domestic policies into an excuse to keep neoconservatism going. “Russia is our enemy”, apparently because, uh…Russia is our enemy.

      But even within Russia, focusing opprobrium on Putin is a mistake. He’s just a vessel. He’s enormously popular there, much more so than those he succeeded in the job. He was not particularly favored by the traditional ruling class, as he wasn’t promoted in the KGB at the rate his peers were. Demagog, yes, but they were bound to get one.

      1. What I don’t get is the willingness to throw political hatchets at Trump over Putin, but then the media entirely ignores Hillary and what she’s literally done to support Putin. Trump just says words which apparently are far worse than the actual things the Democrats have materially done on their watch.

        I get the feeling that words are more important than actions to the electorate at this point. They hear what the politician says in a sound byte, and say ‘daww, that’s great!’ while ignoring the fact that the politician does the opposite.

        I feel like I’m taking crazy pills…

  3. Oh for fuck’s sake, Reason, don’t sink to the idiot level of the MSM Hillary-fellators.

    There is no “love for Putin” among conservatives or Trump-supporters. Jesus, they’ve been anti-Russia forever. Remember the whole “the 1980s called and wants its foreign policy back” bullshit?

    Pointing out that Putin is a stronger leader than the feckless Obama is not supporting Putin. It’s expressing embarrassment at how our country has been represented internationally and how Obama has just pivoted from one disaster to the next.

    1. I’d point out that America would be better off if it had taken more of Putin’s advice on foreign policy over the last 16 years. Ironic.

      1. What advice is that?

        1. 1. Don’t topple Saddam.
          2. Don’t get involved in overthrowing Gaddafi.
          3. Don’t try to overthrow Assad.

          You know, the simple shit.

          What’s worse is that when Obama came into office with Hillary, he made concessions to Putin that pissed off allies like abandoning the missile shield. Only to end up worse off with Russia because of #2 and #3 there, on top of interfering in the Ukraine. It’s almost as if the last 8 years, America has had no coherent foreign policy to speak of…Crazy stuff.

          Putin is not a good guy, but he rightfully views American leadership as dangerous actors on the foreign stage. Shortsighted democratically elected leaders who are not incentivized to make smart decisions, but to do make easy ones they can sell at home to bolster their election chances.

          1. It was the ‘no there, there’ foreign policy strategy. It sure knows how to fool supporters though.

        2. ya we.could learn alot from how he blew up those apartment buildings to justify a chechnyan invasion. are there any libertarians left at h&r or is it just partisan knuckledraggers?

          1. If you are such a self-righteous nitwit that you can’t separate your moral judgements from rational assessments of policy, then you are the knuckledragger. America has contrived a few wars of its own.

            When it comes to foreign policy, Putin is far less interventionist than our democratically elected leaders. Even the ones who have accepted Nobel Peace Prizes.

          2. I haven’t heard of that one. What are you talking about exactly?

            1. Which’ems? Not sure what you want clarification on.

              1. Sorry, must have replied to the wrong guy. I was asking about the blowing up apt. buildings to justify Chechnya stuff.

                1. I was asking about the blowing up apt. buildings to justify Chechnya stuff.

                  I think he’s refereeing to the apartment bombings that were a prelude to the Second Chechen War. Some people have blamed Putin for them, since the Russian reaction and success in the ensuing war helped boost support for Putin and solidify his place as a leader for Russia. While it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Putin would conduct a false-flag attack (his noted ruthlessness includes the murder of critical journalists), it’s more plausible that the Chechens/Dagestanis did indeed commit the bombings (after all, they had no qualms against massacreing a bunch of school kids later).

              2. The guy comes in and shits on people without making any arguments. Ignore him.

  4. I eagearly await the story “Why the democrats hand wringing and pearl clutching over what the republicans think of Putin is overblown”.

    I mean shit, the Obama administration and Hillary herself were not that long ago breathlessly reaching out to Putin to make political moves he favored and “rezet” (oh wait did I spell that wrong) our relationship with Russia. NOW working with Putin is bad, but Obama’s whispered vow to help him out is … no big deal.

    If they didn’t have double standards, Progressives would have no standards at all.

    1. Uranium, anyOne?

    2. Didn’t they think Assad was a ‘good guy’? And then they wanted to bomb him.

    3. Look, it’s no big deal than Hillary makes actual sweetheart deals with Russia that only strengthen them in very real and meaningful ways, but if Trump says he might actually like the guy it’s the end of Western Civilization as we know it. Only words matter, actions are things you should ignore. Right?

  5. I should also point out that only one candidate in this race has accepted millions of dollars from the Russian government while transferring over massive amounts of uranium.

  6. “””Conservatives find themselves outside their comfort zone, sometimes taking positions that contradict 40 years of philosophical positioning.”””

    The big problem with the last 40 years of “conservative” philosophical positioning is that it has conserved nothing.

    1. “conserved nothing”

      Drink!

  7. On the other side, you have people who admire China, with its central planning and strict controls on speech and even the Internet.

    That’s the beauty of being libertarian. You have no wish to order around anyone. If I were the top libertarian strongman, Generalissimo Gowith DeFlow, my orders would be, “Do whatever you want. Leave me alone.”

    1. They even admire Chinese communist owned industry and think that trade with them is “free trade”

      http://tinyurl.com/zfrzxys

    2. I like your slogan but unfortunately there are a lot of people who desire nothing more than to force their views down your throat, for society’s benefit of course.

  8. Pimping war with Russia now is ‘libertarian’. I miss the days when this magazine stood for something other than ‘selling out’.

    This mushy moderate crap that Reason has been spewing ever since Gay Jay is getting really pathetic.

    1. Too many people are still stuck in the Cold War. Harsanyi, who’s also not a libertarian even though he seems to call himself one, is one of those people.

    2. Literally no one is “pimping war.” Your argument is a terrible strawman.

    3. These are just standard establishment talking points. I do think Reason has literally sold out to some group for money. It really is the only explanation for the sharp shift. It seemed to happen in the mid-to-late spring.

  9. I, for one, am all for the liberation of Canada.

    1. I would support a merger with Canada and Mexico. We could call it the Mexico-America-Canada alliance, MAC, of course Canadians would refer to it as craft dinner for some reason.

      1. “””I would support a merger with Canada and Mexico””

        So you want more liberals and leftists in the US

        As to merging with a Hispanic country we have already done that, its called Puerto Rico and its an economic basket case

        1. I go out of my way to insult Rufus and that’s your take?

      2. Call it Neapolitania.

        Mexico = chocolate brown
        USA = vanilla white
        Canada = strawberry (pinko)

    2. As long as you knock it off with your psycho alcohol and drug laws, reign in the cops and get rid of Revenue Quebec.

  10. If you think this “strange new respect” for Putin and Russia is remarkable, I strongly suggest you not look at their reaction to Trump’s wonderfuly conservative, pro-family, society-strengthening, American-values-loving idea to increase welfare spending. Apparently, there’s nothing the GOP has supported more than a good plan to increase welfare spending.

    1. Agreed. It’s entertaining to watch all of these asshat pundits twist themselves into knots to justify the newest idiocy coming out of Trump’s mouth (often about things they’ve previously railed against). I’m very used to this from Liberals (they’ll say and do just about anything to defend their dear leader), but to watch so many conservatives finally drop the facade and reveal they’re just as vilely partisan is delicious.

      1. It is indeed hilarious that they’re not saying, well, still better than Clinton, but trying to either justify or ignore those points. But I’m still for Trump not just to stop Clinton, but for the shock to the political system.

        1. Please explain how a President Trump would shock the political system and how that would be a good thing. I would honestly like to hear.

    2. This is why the only conservative radio I ever bother listening to is Mark Levin. Not that I agree with him on everything, or even most of what he says, but he’s at least consistent and conservative.

  11. Come on. Let’s not play into this stupid narrative.

    Putin is useful to conservatives SOLELY as a rhetorical bludgeon to use against Obama. They’ll do the same against Hillary. When/if Obama is gone and replaced by a Republican, the Putin talk will stop. No one wants Putin to rule the US. No one wants our own Putin. He is a convenient strongman to make the argument Obama is a weakman. That’s it.

    (One exception to “no one”: It may be possible Trump legitimately likes Putin because Trump is strange. His supporters will ape him solely because they like Trump. They won’t give a fuck about Putin 2 years from now.)

    1. Yeah, I find it more useful to consider things from the point of view of someone living in a third country, who is antagonistic toward both the US and Russia. Such a person would be likely to cheer when Russia does something to annoy the US, and vice versa. And of course, this same thing will also tend to occur within either of those countries, among those whose party is out of power.

      The ones you should watch out for are those who do it when their party is in power.

  12. Trump’s stances don’t oscillate; they thrust in unknowable directions all the time, oftentimes more than once a day.

    I’d swear this is a Louis C.K. joke.

  13. Right hook! Left Jab! Right cross! Aaaaaaand the strawman goes down!

    *Holds Dave’s arm up* We have a winner!

    Acknowledging that Putin has good leadership qualities is not the same as admiration. No conservatives admire Putin or want to emulate him. They simply notice that he is a good leader and our skidmark in the whitehouse is an embarrassment. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if so many people hadn’t dropped their brains before entering the voting booth in ’08 and ’12.

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  15. the principles and long-held beliefs of conservatives in general

    Oh yes, conservatives have always been very consistent and principled about opposing foreign dictators.

  16. I think you can respect the fact that a leader seems to have more concern and love for his people than the desires of Babylon, without necessarily respecting how he goes about his business.

    1. I’d like to see the evidence that Putin has any “love” or “concern” for his people.

  17. To hold up Putin as a model implies that you are in favor of big government and a great deal of governmental control over the lives of its citizens. This is exactly the opposite of the position conservatives have been preaching for years, unless I have been tuned in to another planet. I’m surprised the Republican Party is buying into this. I can understand why Donald Trump is saying it. Any resemblance between him and a Conservative is purely coincidental.

  18. It seems to be sock puppets galore on here.

  19. .
    Russia is more authoritarian than America’s well, because it is an old Viking culture, not a Pilgrim culture (although the Pilgrims could be authoritarian ).
    Human Rights watch declared Georgia at fault for the 2008 conflict . The UKRO NAZIS were sending busloads of skinheads to Crimea when Russia held a referendum and without loss of a single life protected the warm water naval base at Sevastapol from Nato takeover. Putin prevented a slaughter of innocents by defending Assad from Kerry’s “teeny, tiny bombing” and his daring Syrian intervention is benign. Putin has a verified total of three journalists in prison while our allies have many more. Free Manning and Pardon Snowden!
    Putin has absorbed over a million refugees from Ukraine and has improved living conditions for Russians despite sanctions. Russia has world’s third largest Mosque and one of worlds larges synagogues in Moscow. Russia requires “Gulag Archipelego” as required reading in high school. Its high school ethics courses are fashioned by cultural influence of different religions, including secularism, because separation of Church and State does not exist in Russia.
    If Russian politics today is like Chicago politics, in Yeltsins time it was Gangs of New York politics. Get a grip. Russia is officially socially conservative but its people are not so much. Russia has a thriving porn industry, Reasonoids, and its media features criticism of Putin on a regular basis. Stop kissing the neocons ass, Reason!

    1. Thank you for some sanity here.

  20. is the corrosive effect this Republican nominee has on the principles and long-held beliefs of conservatives in general.

    If they were actually principles, they couldn’t be corroded so easily, or at all, because of the perceived need for partisan sheepleism.

  21. RE: Why the Conservative Admiration of Putin Is Dangerous

    Oh please!
    Trump the Grump is no more an authoritarian than Putin.
    What’s wrong with you people?

  22. Quote: “But once we start praising human-rights-violating thugs, we risk becoming accessories to his power, and worse, adopting some ugly ideas.”

    I have some bad news for you, H-man. It already happened. It happened when Republicans started praising FDR. Trump’s bad economic ideas are well within the mainstream. Stop pretending that he’s some kind of unprecedented threat. It’s bullshit.

    The reason for Trump’s appeal is that he is unequivocally and unapologetically pro-American. This is a welcome change from the neocons (pathological altruism) or the Democrats (pathological hatred of their own country).

  23. Quote: “But once we start praising human-rights-violating thugs, we risk becoming accessories to his power, and worse, adopting some ugly ideas.”

    I have some bad news for you, H-man. It already happened. It happened when Republicans started praising FDR. Trump’s bad economic ideas are well within the mainstream. Stop pretending that he’s some kind of unprecedented threat. It’s bullshit.

    The reason for Trump’s appeal is that he is unequivocally and unapologetically pro-American. This is a welcome change from the neocons (pathological altruism) or the Democrats (pathological hatred of their own country).

  24. I have no problem with a “weak” president. Indeed, it’s a sign of the strength of the American system that we regularly have “weak” presidents that are challenged and defeated by other branches of government, state governments, the press and by private citizens.

  25. I always support less warmongering. We almost ended human civilization the last time we played butch. It might be one thing if Putin was crazed and unpredictable, but he’s been one of the most sober, reserved leaders I’ve ever seen on the global stage. Stop trying to turn him into a threat.

    Let the Russians worry about his authoritarianism. We have our own problems we need to focus on.

  26. Another Liberal posing as a Libertarian being allowed to post stupid articles.

    First of all Trump is not a Conservative, this is the how we identify the author as a Liberal Troll trying to smear Conservatives.

    Feel free to read The Weekly Standard, the National Review, or any REAL Conservative magazine and tell me Conservative like Putin.

    Remember it was the Democrats that said the reason that Putin was a mean guy was because George W. Bush said bad things about him… So they came up with the “Reset Button” that had meaning to only people in countries with a “Staples”…

    Then with the new Obama Administration the Russians just TOOK the Crimea and since have been threating the Ukrainians…

    So Bush was correct all along…. “That the Russians Policies and Actions merited what he was saying” I mean really… The Russians have their own view of the world and their own goals… None of which are particularly good for their neighbors…

  27. No these articles are dangerous. Russia has legit reasons to be wary of the US. NATO has crept closer and closer to their borders, and we are the ones who have basically been at constant war for decades. We are the ones who have toppled numerous countries and plotted dozens of coups. Russia is certainly freerer now than under the Soviets. Don’t forget maybe the biggest opposition block is the communist party. Let’s bring that darkness back to the Russian people.

    The US installed Ukrainain government went savage on Eastern Ukraine, no one was killed in the annexation of Crimea. Are there problems in Russia? Certainly. Will provoking them or sanctions help the Russian people, no it will not. Only legit free trade and an exchange of ideas can.

    And we cuddle up to all kinds of shitty regimes, what makes this any different? All our Mideast allies including Israel are pretty much serial human rights abusers. This article is bullshit.

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  29. Conservatives value tradition, order, and patriotism. To that end, some of them did admire Putin for his “pro family” views. Of course most of them would denounce Putin if he executed gays for his personal pleasure. Putin does exude a tough, principled (for his brand of ideology) persona that’s alluring for conservatives.

    Conservatives admire countries like Britain and Japan for similar reasons. They’re see them as a single culture societies. “Japan must remain Japan” people in Tokyo might say, and that’s fine with conservatives. We like to think those countries rose to prominence through a collective national effort – hard work, innovation, and willingness to adapt to / advance western technology.

    Most Americans don’t care for France, which is the home of Marie Antoinette and endless social upheaval. The foppish attitude and love for fine wine don’t appeal to conservatives.

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