The invasion of Ukraine has been a clarifying moment in so many ways. Clarifying about Putin’s strategic acumen, clarifying about NATO’s willingness to respond to Russian aggression, and clarifying about the extent to which the modern American right is willing to take seriously arguments from MAGA influencers that, ackshually, Putin is good.
Answer: Not very willing. As much as Trump might praise Putin’s alleged “genius” and Tucker Carlson might remind Republicans that Putin’s never called them a racist, Russia’s actions speak louder than words.
This new Quinnipiac poll suggests nationalist weirdos here at home are being routed to roughly the same degree Putin imagined Ukraine’s troops would be during Russia’s invasion.
I should note that this poll was conducted on Friday through Sunday, before the news about western mega-sanctions on Russia’s central bank had circulated through the public. It’s possible that many people have since heard about that and moved today from believing that Biden hasn’t been tough enough on Russia to believing that his response is about right (or even too tough). But here’s where Americans stood as of this morning:
Even a meaningful number of Dems, possibly radicalized by Putin’s meddling in the 2016 campaign, want Biden to take off the gloves with Russia. But it’s the GOP number that stands out. Considering Trump’s long, public courting of better relations with Putin, a party as thoroughly under his sway as Republicans are might be expected to be evenly divided at best. Particularly with Carlson barking at them every night that they don’t need to reflexively side with the democratic western-aligned underdog against the fascist bully.
Instead, Republicans are more likely than either Dems or indies to want Biden to get tougher. Possibly that’s a function of the right’s conviction in projecting strength at all times, possibly it’s a more basic Pavlovian reaction to any subject involving Biden and toughness. If you’re a Republican and you’re asked whether Biden is tough enough on something, you don’t even wait for the end of the question. The answer is NO.
But that spin on Republican opinion would be too glib. For instance, when Quinnipiac asked a different question that omitted the reference to toughness, they found Republicans again more gung ho than the other parties to intervene in Ukraine:
Putin’s favorable rating among Americans is 4/81 overall in this poll and 6/79 among Republicans. Asked if they believe Russia’s claim that Ukraine belongs to Moscow is justified, Americans split … 6/86. Republicans are (slightly) less likely to side with Putin’s position on that question than Democrats and independents are.
It takes a lot to achieve this degree of unanimity in U.S. public opinion in 2022, especially on an otherwise opaque foreign policy development. It’s a testament to Putin’s cartoonish villainy in frankly stating his ambition to rebuild Russia’s empire and Zelensky’s unassuming heroism in resisting him that we’ve reached this sort of national solidarity. America, united at last — in the belief that Putin is a loathsome revanchist scumbag.
Populist Republicans sure do seem out of touch with popular opinion suddenly, especially on their own side. And certain people are eager to take political advantage:
Putin has two choices now: an unwinnable occupation of Ukraine after leveling the country and murdering its hero President (if that is even achievable) or a humiliating retreat. Yeah, that’s “genius” and “very savvy” alright. No walking that back. History is watching.
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) February 28, 2022
That’s Christie taking a dig at Trump for his “genius” comments about Putin. Although, notably, even Trump pivoted away from his usual Putin fanboy stance when he spoke at CPAC on Saturday:
The Russian attack on Ukraine is appalling — it's an outrage!
Joe Biden has turned calm into chaos, competence into incompetence, stability into anarchy, and security into a catastrophe!
— Real America's Voice (RAV) (@RealAmVoice) February 28, 2022
It’s a rout, which means the media should probably dial down its coverage of how much the American right supposedly loves Russia. Not a lot of love in the numbers above.
Most impressively of all, Americans are taking a hawkish position on Russia while operating under no illusions about the economic pain this will cause to the U.S. Fifty-nine percent said they thought a long conflict in Ukraine would hurt them financially, including 68 percent of Republicans. But they’re willing to punish Russia anyway because it’s the right thing to do, strategically and morally.
As for how exactly the public wants Biden to get tougher with Putin, that’s less clear. As I say, it may be that most were waiting for Biden to impose mega-sanctions and, now that he has, they’re satisfied. If they’re waiting for anything more than that, though, they should probably think harder about the dynamics of this conflict. It’s difficult to square the impulse to “get tougher!” with the results to this question:
Former Trump advisor Fiona Hill told Politico today that she thinks Putin is capable of going nuclear before this is over, reminding everyone that he’s crossed lines (polonium, Novichok) on unconventional weapons before. “The thing about Putin is, if he has an instrument, he wants to use it. Why have it if you can’t?” The coup in Moscow can’t come soon enough.
I’ll leave you with this. By the way, Biden’s job approval among all adults in Quinnipiac’s poll is a pitiful 37 percent. That’s the second poll in as many days to place him that low. Hoo boy.
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) February 27, 2022