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Ukraine and Reactionary Populism


Scott already posted about Viktor Orbán’s opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s not hard to understand the backlash among reactionary populists in former Warsaw Pact countries. The revolutions of 1989 may have been liberal-democratic in orientation, but they were, at heart, nationalist uprising against Soviet imperial domination. Reactionary populists in countries like Hungary, Poland, and Czechia simply marginalize those liberal-democratic elements in favor of anti-communism. Indeed, their narratives of national identity emphasize victimization by foreign-imposed communist regimes.

NATO protection freed reactionary populists in these countries from worrying too much about Putin’s imperial dispositions. But, with the exception of Law and Justice in Poland, their focus on the anti-communist dimensions of national liberation removed any lingering barriers to cordial relations with Moscow.

Ukraine, however, appears to be a bridge too far.

But what about reactionary populists in Western Europe and North America? There’s no particular reason to expect them to balk at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and we’ve spent the last few weeks watching them amplify Russian propaganda. But it looks like they miscalculated badly. The US and UK governments played their hands well; in the court of public opinion, Zelenskyy has run circles around Putin.

The Washington Post reports that:

But Mr. Putin’s savaging of Ukraine, which many of his right-wing supporters had said he would never do, has recast the Russian president more clearly as a global menace and boogeyman with ambitions of empire who is threatening nuclear war and European instability.

For many of his longtime admirers — from France to Germany and the United States to Brazil — it is something of an awkward spot. The stain of Mr. Putin’s new reputation threatens to taint his fellow travelers, too.

“It will be a decisive blow to them,” said Lucio Caracciolo, the editor of the Italian geopolitical magazine Limes, who considered Mr. Putin’s invasion an irrational, and potentially, a politically suicidal move. He said that members of the international ultraright who enjoyed a special relationship and financial support from Mr. Putin were “in serious trouble.”

“They put all their eggs in the same basket,” Mr. Caracciolo said. “And the basket is collapsing.”

The article surveys the (sometimes shifting) positions of prominent far-right politicians. Some have distanced themselves from Putin. Others have offered excuses. But most have, in one way or another, condemned the invasion.

In the United States, former President Donald J. Trump, whose term in office was marked with solicitousness to the Russian leader that confounded his Western allies, said on Wednesday that Mr. Putin was “very savvy” and made a “genius” move of declaring regions of Ukraine as independent states as a predicate to move in the Russian military.

Those remarks left Mr. Trump an outlier in the Republican Party of which he is the de facto leader. But he was not totally isolated.

Mr. Trump’s media cheerleader, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson, urged Americans to ask themselves what they had against Mr. Putin and echoed the Kremlin as he denigrated Ukraine as not a democracy but a puppet of the West and the United States that was “essentially managed by the State Department.” After the invasion, he too moderated, warning of “a world war” and saying “Vladimir Putin started this war, so whatever the context of the decision that he made, he did it.”

Indeed, I think this is the first time that anti-Trump Republicans have an opportunity to change the direction of the party. It would require a coordinated effort by like-minded officials and donors to target Trump’s most extreme allies, including white nationalists like Marjorie Taylor Greene. They would need to put enormous pressure on FOX to fire Tucker Carlson, which would be difficult but not, I think, impossible with a campaign relentlessly attacking him as a Putin apologist.

Unfortunately, the chances of this happening are basically zero. As Trump’s two impeachments make clear, the anti-Trump factions can’t act collectively. So those that do say ‘enough is enough’ get purged. Those that remain won’t or can’t draw a connection between longstanding Republican tactics and the rise of American Putinism. Political power always come first.

Say what you want about Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. At least he’s honest about the calculus.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey was questioned Thursday about his efforts to get Wendy Rogers elected to the state senate in 2020, and whether he has any regrets in light of how Rogers has been promoting white nationalist causes.

Arizona Mirror reporter Jeremy Duda asked the Republican governor his thoughts on Rogers during an event where Ducey announced a scholarship program for the state’s foster children.

“Are you still happy with that investment? Do you believe that was a good decision?” Duda asked, referring to the governor’s independent expenditures giving half a million dollars to Rogers’ campaign.

“What I need as a governor are governing majorities so that I can pass dollars into our social safety net so we can provide programs like this that will help children from all over our state… [and so] we can pass budgets that will put $8.6, $8.7 billion additional dollars into K-12 education,” Ducey claimed. “So that’s what I’ve wanted to do, is move my agenda forward. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, and [Rogers] is still better than her opponent, Felicia French.”

When Duda asked him to elaborate on this last point, Ducey reiterated that Rogers “is better” than French, the Democrat whom she defeated in 2020.

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