Trump splinters Republicans with praise of Vladimir Putin

The former president claimed the attack on Ukraine events would never have occurred during his presidency.
Former president Donald Trump, speaking here at last February's Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, has made comments favorable to Vladimir Putin and Russia.
Former president Donald Trump, speaking here at last February's Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, has made comments favorable to Vladimir Putin and Russia. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]
Published Feb. 24, 2022

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump continued his criticism of President Joe Biden on Wednesday, saying in a statement that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “playing” him “like a drum.”

“It is not a pretty thing to watch!” Trump said.

His comments come a day after the former commander in chief went well beyond most Republicans by not just criticizing Biden’s handling of Russia’s aggression toward and invasion of Ukraine, but also lionizing Putin.

In a separate statement Tuesday, following Biden’s announcement of the first tranche of sanctions, Trump claimed such events would never have occurred during his presidency.

And in an interview published Tuesday with “The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show,” Trump called Putin’s recognition Monday of two enclaves in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine as independent breakaway republics “genius,” adding that Putin is “very savvy.”

Trump’s former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, tweeted Wednesday that “allowing these thugs, autocrats, and dictators to move around freely is not in America’s best interest.”

But on Tuesday, Pompeo’s past praise for Putin was widely circulated. Over the past month, Pompeo has called Putin “talented,” “savvy,” “shrewd” and a “talented statesman” for whom he has “enormous respect.”

Republicans parroting Trump’s comments about Putin are “cowards” repeating “the nonsense that is fed to Trump by his handlers,” former Trump White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci tweeted Wednesday.

“Trump down deep laughs at all this,” he said. “He can’t believe he has this level of sway.”

The recent rhetoric from Trump and his once-top diplomat go far beyond what most congressional Republicans have said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned that the humanitarian consequences of a larger Russian invasion “could be catastrophic.”

Noting that the world is watching, McConnell challenged Biden to use his executive authority to impose “devastating sanctions against the Kremlin and its enablers.”

A joint statement from House Republican leaders called Putin’s invasion “reprehensible” and slammed Biden for routinely choosing “appeasement” and “tough talk” without strong action to follow.

“The U.S. and our allies must now make the Putin regime pay for this aggression,” they said. “Congress should compel President Biden to take the tough steps his administration has opposed thus far.”

In a Fox News interview, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., referred to Biden’s first round of sanctions as “quarter measures.”

“Unfortunately, the administration spent the first 24 hours debating whether to even call this invasion an invasion, and the president took 80 minutes to come out for his own press conference, which doesn’t exactly project confidence and certainty and resolution to people watching in Moscow,” Cotton said.

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The House Republican Conference went even further in criticizing Biden’s appearance, posting a C-SPAN screen grab of Biden walking away from the lectern after delivering his remarks Tuesday.

“This is what weakness on the world stage looks like,” the post said.

For one Republican, it was an unfair slam against a president in the middle of an international crisis.

“As still ‘technically’ a member of house Republicans, let me, with all my might, condemn this damn awful tweet during this crisis,” retiring Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., wrote. “You can criticize policy, but this is insane and feeds into Putins narrative.”

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who was voted out of GOP leadership for opposing Trump and whose primary opponent is backed by Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-cALIF., said Trump’s “adulation” of Putin “aids our enemies.”

“Trump’s interests don’t seem to align with the interests of the United States of America,” she said.

- Nolan D. McCaskill