‘War criminal’ or ‘savvy strongman’? Putin invasion deepens GOP divide

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exposed a schism in the Republican party between “hawks” who condemn Vladimir Putin and “America first” followers who express admiration for the strongman.

But what has united the two wings so far is an opportunity to score political points by casting Joe Biden as weak and paying the price of failure in Afghanistan.

The split was evident on Thursday as Republicans in Washington condemned Putin as a “war criminal” while many grassroots conservatives attending a conference in Florida agreed with former president Donald Trump that the Russian autocrat is “savvy”.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, described Putin as a “thug” and criticized Biden for being too slow to impose tough sanctions. “Sadly, deterrence after the fact is not deterrence at all,” he said.

Senator Lindsey Graham, who is both a Trump ally and traditional hawk, added: “The Biden administration continues to misread the moment … We should move ahead forcefully against Putin, a war criminal, and demand our allies join us.”

Even Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader in the House of Representatives who is typically loyal to Trump, focused his statement on Putin’s invasion as “reckless and evil” and echoed Biden by saying the Russian president “must be held accountable for his actions”.

But 850 miles away in Orlando, there was less sense of urgency at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual gathering dominated by Trump where party stalwarts such as McConnell and Senator Mitt Romney have long been persona non grata.

Ted Cruz at the 2022 CPAC in Orlando, Florida.
Ted Cruz at the 2022 CPAC in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Chris duMond/REX/Shutterstock

The Ukraine crisis did feature in some speeches and panel discussions but played second fiddle to domestic issues such as “cancel culture”, mask and vaccine mandates in the coronavirus pandemic and the teaching of “critical race theory” in schools.

Anyone listening to diatribes by Ted Cruz, senator for…

Read full story at the guardian.com

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