The bizarre and unsavory strongman bromance between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump continues. If you're a MAGA Republican and not having second thoughts by now, something's wrong with you.
The latest head-scratcher and jaw-dropper is a new list of sanctions slapped on American individuals by the Russian president. That's already weird. Aren't we in the West the ones imposing sanctions on him for waging a genocidal war of conquest against Ukraine?
But there it is. Putin, as ever, peddles his own narratives that wantonly invert reality. So in the Kremlin's book, it's Russia that must punish the West for its aggression.
The creepier part is Putin's pick of the 500 Americans on that list. Quite a few of them have nothing whatsoever to do with Russia or American policy toward the Kremlin. They instead share a different distinction: They're domestic foes of the former U.S. president.
There's Letitia James, for example, the attorney general of New York who's suing Trump for fraud. And Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state of Georgia, who resisted Trump when, after losing the 2020 election, the president leaned on him to "find" votes to flip the outcome. And there's Michael Byrd, the police officer who shot and killed a pro-Trump rioter on Jan. 6, 2021, when MAGA crowds sacked the US Capitol. Also included are celebrity Trump foils like Barack Obama and Stephen Colbert.
What's going on here? Putin, with his KGB-trained mind, is one of the most manipulative creatures on Earth. His sanctions list is just one more twist in his extensive and global disinformation campaign, designed to sow division and discord in Western societies.
In this case, the Russian president is once again signaling to Trump and the Tucker Carlson wing of the Republican party that they should make common cause. Your enemies are my enemies, Putin is vibing. And of course he'd quite appreciate Trump returning that favor if he gets back into the White House, and even if he doesn't.
In the White House, Trump certainly seemed to see the world in a Putinist way. His first impeachment had to do with his attempt to bully Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who's lately been number 1 on Putin's (literal) hit list. Trump also talked to his NATO allies as though they were America's real enemies. At the same time, he made googly eyes at his neo-Tsarist pal in the Kremlin, with the admiration of one authoritarian for another.
In that way, both strongmen belong to a small but growing club of populists that also includes Viktor Orban. The Hungarian prime minister impresses them because he took a liberal democracy and in effect turned it into an "illiberal" (Orban's word) autocracy.
But Hungary is small, whereas Russia is -- militarily and geographically, at least -- huge, and it has nukes.
America's Western allies are increasingly clear about their fears and hopes for next year's US presidential election. In reply to students at a school near Berlin this week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz dropped diplomatic niceties. "The current president is better, so I want him to be re-elected," he said. Joe Biden, Scholz added, knows "what you have to do to prevent the world from going to war." Trump, Scholz said, only stands for division.
Ultimately, it's Republicans who must decide whom to nominate for president, and whether to keep turning themselves into a Trumpist cult. It's not too late. Raffensperger, the one on Putin's sanctions list, is also Republican, for example. And he knows how to deploy macabre humor for patriotic ends.
"While I was previously unaware of my anti-Russian activities, I accept the verdict of Russia, whose commitment to truth, justice and the rule of law speaks for itself," Raffensperger deadpanned this week. "My inclusion on this list is deserved, and I appreciate them thinking of me." Let Republicans think on that.