It is jarring to see pro-Trump conservatives indifferent or even hostile to investigations of Russian intervention in the 2016 campaign. Just a few years ago (it feels like an eternity), conservatives were jumping all over President Obama for his Russian “reset” and his first-term eagerness to negotiate with Moscow.
Even further back, conservatives hailed Ronald Reagan’s description of the Soviet Union as “an evil empire.” Reagan ran a brilliant ad during his 1984 re-election bid that showed a bear roaming through the woods. Without mentioning the words “Russia” or “Soviet Union,” an announcer intoned: “There is a bear in the woods. For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don’t see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it’s vicious and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who’s right, isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear.”
The drift on the right toward Vladimir Putin is remarkable. An Economist/YouGov poll in December found that while only 9 percent of Trump voters had a favorable view of Obama, 35 percent had a favorable view of Putin. In February, Gallup reported that the proportion of Republicans viewing Putin favorably rose from 12 percent in 2015 to 32 percent this year.
Not surprisingly, given what Putin did to defeat Hillary Clinton, his favorability among Democrats dropped, from 15 percent in 2015 to 10 percent now. But note how unpopular Putin was with Democrats in both surveys. What’s striking is that a 3-point gap between the two parties in 2015 is now at 22 points.
It’s true that Moscow’s intervention in Western politics goes back a long way. Throughout the Cold War, the Soviets gave strong support to communist parties around the world.
Putin, of course, will lend support to any political movement—right or left, separatist or nationalist—that disrupts the West. But he seems especially interested in creating a new international political alliance focused on conservatives and the far right.