The Enemies Within the Republican Party

It bears repeating that the President of the United States was helped into office by the Russian government. Say it again. And again.

And again.

This is not a partisan statement. It is not an ideological statement. It is a fact. Most Republicans are doing their best to avoid the subject. When former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates told Senators on Monday the Russians compromised a senior adviser to the president, the Capitol’s dome should have flown clean off. Instead, some of the Republicans chose to spend their allotted time mansplaining.

It’s impossible to imagine a world in which the Republicans would be as unanimous in their shameful silence if a foreign power were to bomb Washington. That would be so painful that the Republicans could not afford to risk standing idle while Americans died.

But cyber-warfare is nebulous. The Republicans can bank of the electorate’s understandable confusion about who’s doing what to whom. They can rely on polarization to encourage voters to avoid thinking clearly. Because they can rely on all that, the Republicans can keep dodging the subject of Russia, even muddy the water a bit more, while the intelligence community is unanimous in its assessment, and virtually pleading with the Republicans to do something.

You could say the Republicans are threading the needle between too much deference to an insurgent president and too much criticism of the leader of the Republican Party. But there is another view, I’m afraid, that’s less than charitable.

What if the Republicans are avoiding Russia because the GOP’s base likes Russia, even if it destroyed the integrity of our election? Recent reporting by the Washington Post suggests major factions of the base likes Russia, indeed, have found explicit common ground with Russian President Vladimir Putin. If the Republicans were to start leaning hard on Russia, they might be leaning hard on the Republican base.

I may be dancing here on the edge of conspiracy theory, which is something I avoid assiduously for fear of discrediting my arguments. But as someone wiser than I am said: if we live in outrageous times, it may be time to give voice to things that are totally outrageous.

Here’s what’s totally outrageous.

Long before Trump became president, conservative leaders made numerous trips to Russia because, according to the Post, they grew “frustrated with the leftward tilt under President Barack Obama.” They “have forged ties with well-connected Russians and come to see that country’s authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin, as an ally.”

The National Organization for Marriage, the National Rifle Association and evangelist Billy Graham’s son Franklin represent three factions of the GOP base—anti-gay politics, gun politics and Christian politics. They were named in the report as having had an “attitude adjustment” among conservatives who have historically been hostile toward Russia. But that adjustment isn’t outrageous.

What’s outrageous is that they found common ground with the leader of a country the United States military sees as a major threat to the United States. Imagine if Americans with major Republican clout made nice with ISIS. Of course, that wouldn’t happen. ISIS wants an Islamic caliphate. Putin, however, wants Russia to champion “white Christian civilization” to restore the glory of its czarist past.

Many of us have marveled at polls showing large numbers of Republicans showing warm feelings toward Putin. How can a former KGB agent be popular among people who once hated the Evil Empire? We chalked it up to Trump. He’s popular with Republicans. Trump likes Putin. Therefore, many Republicans like Putin.

But this new Post report suggests the opposite: that Putin was already attracting interest among Republicans, especially those who felt alienated from their country by the election of the first black president, perceived “secularization” and the embrace of gay civil rights. Trump, in other words, isn’t the cause of those shocking polls. He is rather a symptom of movements already underway.

Before 2016, we were used to red-meat politics. When Wayne LaPierre blasted “the elites,” we thought it was more of the same.

But after 2016, when it’s increasingly clear that major parts of the Republican Party are being influenced by a foreign power, we have to ask what it means when LaPierre says, as he did recently that, “It’s up to us to speak up against the three most dangerous voices in America: academic elites, political elites, and media elites,” he said.

“These are America’s greatest domestic threats.”

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is a Washington Monthly contributing writer.