A perfect gift this year for most Republican senators and representatives is the good old white, blue and red.
That’s right; you read it correctly. Not the red, white and blue flag of the United States of America, but the tricolor of the Russian Federation.
The meek — almost silent — reaction of the Republican Party to Russian interference in the 2016 election, now documented as having blanketed the U.S., has been so craven and cowardly, there is only one way to reward them: Send them the Russian flag to wave in their congressional offices.
Most GOP members of Congress today, their Fox News propagandists and many on the right are supporting Russia by turning their backs on the facts: hard evidence that the Russian government has waged a widespread attack on the United States with everything from a blitzkrieg wave of vicious lies and false information on social media to millions of dollars of financial support for the National Rifle Association, a major Trump backer.
Dozens of respected conservative columnists and national security leaders have recognized and condemned Russia’s interference — and denounced Trump and the GOP: George Will, Eliot Cohen, Michael Hayden, Max Boot, Bret Stephens. But only a handful of GOP members of Congress have done so, and several are leaving office. The late Sen. John McCain boldly condemned the Russian campaign, describing Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a murderer and thug.
As a result of the relative silence from other Republicans, Trump has been emboldened to continue to call the investigation into Russian interference a “witch-hunt.”
Congressional Republicans have largely shied away from bipartisan efforts to protect the Mueller probe despite daily evidence of Russia’s attack: A new Senate report on a wholesale attack by Russia’s Internet Research Agency to engage Americans on social media; 25 Russian nationals being indicted by the special counsel for alleged identity theft and hacking of Democratic Party communications; several high-level Trump figures, including his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleading guilty to conspiring with Russian officials; a young Russian gun-rights advocate agreed to plead guilty to acting as a foreign agent; millions of dollars invested in Trump properties by Russian oligarchs; and Trump’s obsequious approach to Russia and personal meetings with Putin, going so far at a Helsinki meeting to accept Putin’s denial of Russian interference over the unanimous conclusion of American intelligence agencies.
The campaign to interfere in US elections dates back many years, but it gained steam during the Obama administration, when Putin shifted course from a post-1991 policy to engage with the West to instead sow division within the Western alliance.
Putin has done so with both aggressive and sophisticated measures, ranging from outright invasion of an independent Ukraine to massive cyberattacks on Western democracies.
Russia’s strategy, basically to weaken the United States by exploiting internal tensions, reverses the old Soviet-era strategy to seek support within America through the left wing, partly through unions that tended to support socialist policies. For the past decade, the Russian government has focused all its efforts on the right wing — once the most virulently anti-Russian of Americans.
Tom Nichols, an analyst at the Naval War College, recently noted the ironic, 180-degree shift in Moscow’s tactics. In the old days, the Soviets saw their opening on the left; now Russia seeks to slice into the American polity on the right, and many in the GOP are playing right into their hands with their fear of Trump.
Nichols, a lifelong conservative until Trump, has warned of “an accelerating hostility towards established knowledge” in the ideological shift in the GOP and their acceptance of Trump’s disdain for expertise and the rule of law.
Republicans afraid to criticize Trump’s refusal to recognize Russia’s assault need to read one of Alexander Hamilton’s essays in the 1787 Federalist Papers.
“One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption,” Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 22, later discussing the possibility for “a foreign power with which we were at war to perplex our councils and embarrass our exertions.”
Frederic B. Hill is a former foreign correspondent for The Baltimore Sun and senior aide to Republican senator Charles McC. Mathias Jr. of Maryland. He lives in Arrowsic.