As I type this newsletter, continued American aid for Ukraine is in grave doubt. Tucker Carlson is in Moscow to conduct a friendly interview with Vladimir Putin. And we’re receiving reports from the front lines that Russia is advancing, in part because of Ukrainian ammunition shortages. In short, the war is reaching a critical stage, and Ukraine may lose because Republicans are willing to hand authoritarian Russia a historic military victory rather than supply further aid to a democratic ally.
Ronald Reagan isn’t just rolling over in his grave; he may also lurch from it in a fit of incredulous rage. This is a remarkable and potentially catastrophic reversal by a political party that is in a state of near-total, frequently random ideological transformation.
To explain the intensity of Republican resistance to Ukraine aid, I need to return to a concept I wrote about in November: that of bespoke realities. My friend Renée DiResta, the technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, coined the term, and she wrote that it refers to the “bubble realities” constructed by communities “that operate with their own norms, media, trusted authorities and frameworks of facts.”
Among those who oppose aid to Ukraine, there are certainly several paleoconservatives who object on classic isolationist grounds: It’s not our fight, our support is costly, we might find ourselves inadvertently embroiled in war, and so on. But the mass Republican movement against Ukraine is rooted far less in policy than it is in a particular bespoke reality of the MAGA universe, in which Ukraine is a pernicious villain, Putin is a flawed hero and Russia should have crushed Ukraine long ago.
MAGA Republicans’ hatred and contempt for Volodymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainian cause is shockingly vehement. Candace Owens says she wants to “punch” Zelensky. Donald Trump Jr. calls him an “international welfare queen.” Carlson says he dresses “like the manager of a strip club.” It’s all bizarre and unreasonable. And it all fits the broader MAGA narrative.
Let’s break it down, step by step. First, if you’re stumped by the notion that Ukraine is a villain, you may need reminding of a conspiracy theory that is now largely forgotten but was prevalent on the right at the time of Donald Trump’s first impeachment. In his infamous conversation with Zelensky — the one that triggered the impeachment — Trump asked Zelensky about a “CrowdStrike” server allegedly being held in Ukraine.
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