scorecardDemocrats seize on Trump's pro-Russia comments
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Democrats seize on Trump's pro-Russia comments

Nicole Gaudiano   

Democrats seize on Trump's pro-Russia comments
PoliticsPolitics3 min read
  • Democrats decried Trump's praise for Putin as "undermining national security" and "near treasonous."
  • But his comments also represent "a great opportunity for Democrats," one pollster said.

Democrats say former President Donald Trump has done "amazing damage" to himself politically with his pro-Russian comments as Vladimir Putin carries out his invasion of Ukraine.

Democrats decried Trump's praise this week for Putin's "savvy" and his "genius" tactics in Ukraine as "undermining national security" and "near treasonous."

But his statements also represent "a great opportunity for Democrats," Democratic pollster Celinda Lake wrote in an email to Insider.

Americans, and particularly those who are older, will not side with Russia, she said. And, she added that Trump is also in the meantime reminding people of his "dangerous ties" to Russia and the disruptions to US elections.

"It reveals Biden to be a strong, patriotic leader," Lake said. "And Trump to be a self-centered politician who will sacrifice anything for his own advancement."

It's not just Trump embracing Putin. Other Republicans who have made pro-Russian comments have included Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who asked why "permanent Washington" hates Putin so much and who downplayed the current conflict as a "border dispute" before changing his tone on Thursday to blame for Putin.

Trump and Carlson "going out of their way to fawn over Putin" makes President Joe Biden's job harder from a policy standpoint as he tries to present a united front against Putin's invasion of Ukraine, said Brad Bannon, a pollster for Democrats, progressive issue groups and labor unions.

"However, from a political standpoint, it's manna from Heaven for Biden," Bannon said. "Here you've got Putin invading a fledgling democracy that can't defend itself. And meanwhile, you have the most prominent and visible Republicans in the country, you know, taking Putin's side and so it's a major political hit against the Republicans."

Republicans at the conservative CPAC conference in Orlando have been blaming Biden for Putin's invasion of Ukraine, saying he didn't invade any countries while Trump was in office. Trump also made the unfounded claim that it wouldn't have happened if he had still been president, even though Trump's first impeachment in 2019 was tied to his withholding of aid to Ukraine as the country battled Russian-backed aggression.

White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates hit back against Trump's comments on Wednesday, tweeting from his official account: Two nauseating, fearful pigs who hate what America stands for and whose every action is driven by their … own weakness and insecurity, rubbing their snouts together and celebrating as innocent people lose their lives."

Trump's latest "genius" and "savvy" comments won't "wear well" and will resurface every time there is an atrocity or civilians are killed, said Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist and host of the podcast "That Trippi Show." His statements will hurt him politically with independents and some Republicans, and even so, he will likely double and triple down on them, he said.

"I think Trump did amazing damage to himself," Trippi said.

Eric Schultz, who served as deputy White House press secretary during the Obama administration, called the Republican Party's embrace of Putin "one of the saddest developments in US politics in decades" after having stood up to anti-democratic forces around the world.

"Voters seek reassurance, strength, competence, and that's what they're seeing right now from this White House," he added.

Bipartisan solidarity

A congressional delegation that attended the Munich Security Conference on February 21 was in "bipartisan solidarity" on how the US should respond to Putin's aggression, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Insider. Plenty of Republicans support Biden's approach "and are also cringing at the fact that Trump has perverted their party when it comes to issues like this," he said.

Van Hollen, a former chairman of the Senate Democrats' campaign arm, said Democrats must "appeal to the patriotism of Americans."

"I think most Americans would cringe at the idea that a former president is siding with the Russian leader against the United States and our NATO allies," he said. "I just think we have to keep raising that point."

Trump's "appalling comments should make every, I think, reasonable American shudder," said Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and key ally of Biden's, on Friday after returning from a week in Europe. They also provide a "distracting reminder" to US partners in Europe that, while he was president, "he repeatedly insulted, berated, undermined the partnership of NATO, our G-7 and EU allies. He actually called the EU an enemy of the United States."

But Coons said it's time to move beyond Trump's comments "and focus on President Biden's clear and forceful leadership and on the way that a bipartisan majority of the Senate supports him in his efforts to strengthen our determination to oppose Putin and Putin's aggression in Europe."