A field guide to Republicans' tangled relationship with Vladimir Putin

The shallow anti-Obama partisans: This group of tub-thumpers often agrees with one premise of the hawks: that American weakness has been the deciding factor in Putin’s more daring international forays. But they often aim this point as only a criticism of Obama’s internationalist orientation, or even as an accusation that Obama does not love America at all. They will argue that Putin’s willingness to stand up for his country’s interests has improved the standing of Russia over the last eight years, while Obama has harmed America’s. Sometimes these statements are issued in tones of admiration for Putin, but as often as not they are just insults aimed at the American president…

Western Putinists: At the very hard end you will find a subset of people on the nationalist right who believe the U.S.-led liberal world order is irredeemably corrupt and corrosive of Western civilization. Russia strikes them as one of the last “free” countries, in the sense that it is free to defy the wishes of the U.S. State Department. They admire Putin as an ally of nationalism, who promotes other ideological allies, like when he bailed out Marine Le Pen’s Front National. For them the promotion of traditional Christian religion and ethno-nationalism is consonant with human nature. It means saving souls for the next world, and bringing flourishing culture in this one. In their view Russia becomes an alternative model of governance. Sometimes Western Putinists come in a softer appearance, merely being fans of a state that publicly champions religion. Sometimes they have elaborate theories about how, in effect, through the influence of cultural Marxism, America is the communist world power that must be defeated by a re-Christianized Russia. The view circulates along the edges of the alt-right so much that even some hard-right nationalists are denouncing it as naive.