Senator Tom Cotton delivered a little primer on how Republican lawmakers should respond to Democrat operatives posing as Sunday political show hosts. Cotton’s Republican colleagues should take notes and respond as he did when ABC’s George Stephanopoulos relentlessly pressed him on a response to Trump’s recent remarks about Putin. Cotton wasn’t playing that game.
Do you ever wonder why Republican politicians fall for it when a reporter or television show anchor asks them to respond to another Republican’s remarks, especially Trump’s remarks? Time and time again Republicans deliver a hot take or try to respond without actually saying anything and it never turns out well. The reporter or television personality wants to create friction within the Republican Party among its politicians. Trump derangement syndrome is still strong and there has been a noticeable effort to put the blame on Trump for Russia’s invasion into Ukraine.
During his interview with Stephanopoulos on This Week with George Stephanopoulos George asked Cotton to comment on something Trump said at CPAC on Saturday. Trump described Putin as “smart” and “our leaders” as “dumb.”
“Of course he’s smart,” Trump said, doubling down on praise of the Russian leader that many other Republicans have avoided in the wake of the invasion. “But the real problem is our leaders are dumb. Dumb. So dumb.”
While Trump expressed support for the Ukrainian people and called the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a “brave man,” he also noted his ties with other leading autocrats. He specifically pointed to his friendly relationships with Xi Jinping of China and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump then left no doubt he is the most powerful voice in Republican politics by indicating he will run for president a third time in 2024. “We did it twice, and we’ll do it again,” Trump said. “We’re going to be doing it again, a third time.”
You’ll notice that Trump described Zelensky as a brave man and voiced his support for Ukrainians. He also seems to have worked in an announcement that he’s running for president in 2024 in his remarks which apparently largely went unnoticed. Cotton is a hawk and wants Biden to act pro-actively, not defensive, when it comes to dealing with Putin. All the gestures from Americans that show support for Ukrainians are nice, he said, but it is necessary for Biden act decisively, not in half measures.
“We can do more than prayers and hashtags and lighting up buildings, George. It’s time for the president and some of our European partners to stop pussyfooting around. The financial sanctions announced last night are riddled with loopholes. I know they say they sanctioned 80% of the banks in Russia, but Vladimir Putin controls 100% of the banks in Russia. He can use the other 20% to continue to finance his war machine,” he said, calling for more immediate assistance to Ukraine and for all Russian banks to be removed from the international payment system.
Stephanopoulos, you’ll remember, has a history as a Democrat adviser and operative. Before ABC News hired him to act like a journalist, he was an adviser to the Democrat Party, communications director for Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, and after the election, he became White House communications director. He went on to be a senior adviser for policy and strategy for the Clinton administration before he left in 1996. Stephanopoulos didn’t like it when Cotton criticized Jen Psaki when she said the “mistake, we all probably make” is believing that Putin follows the “global norms and beliefs” the rest of the world follows. Cotton rightly pushed back on that.
What has been striking to me in the run-up to Putin’s invasion into Ukraine has been the naivety expressed by Team Biden. For example, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Putin would have to answer to Russian parents if he invaded and Ukrainians began dying in battle. He said it as though the Biden administration expects Putin to act as a normal person, capable of feeling guilt over nefarious, deadly actions. Putin doesn’t care about anyone but himself. If people have to die, so be it. This is a power grab and land grab as Putin tries to put back together the old Soviet Union. Putin is a delusional maniac, a brutal killer. Biden has consistently underestimated him.
So, Stephanopoulos decided to ask Cotton for a comment on Trump’s statement about Putin at CPAC. Stephanopoulos became like a dog with a bone. He badgered Cotton to answer a question that Cotton refused to do. Cotton refused to help Stephanopoulos pivot to bashing Trump.
“You’ve never made that mistake, it’s true. You’ve been stalwart in your opposition of Vladimir Putin. The same cannot be said for the leader of your party, Donald Trump. Last night he finally condemned the invasion but he also repeated his praise of Putin, calling him smart. Earlier in the week, he called him pretty smart. He called him savvy. He says NATO and the U.S. are dumb. Are you prepared to condemn that kind of rhetoric from the leader of your party?” Stephanopoulos grilled.
But the senator refused to discuss Republicans who’ve been accused by the left of being weak on Russia. He recalled how Republicans supplied the Ukrainians with weapons when the last Democrat president would not.
“George, you’ve heard what I had to say about Vladimir Putin. That he’s a ruthless dictator who’s launched a naked, unprovoked war of aggression. Thankfully the Ukrainian army has anti-tank missiles that President Obama would not supply that we did supply last time Republicans were in charge in Washington. That’s why it’s so urgent that we continue to supply those weapons to Ukraine,” Cotton responded.
Stephanopoulos continued to ask several times, “Why can’t you condemn Donald Trump for those comments?” Cotton told him if he wanted to talk about Trump’s remarks, he should have him on the show and talk to him. Cotton said he doesn’t “speak on behalf of other politicians” and that is exactly what every Republican politician should do when a Democrat operative goes down this path. They hold every Republican responsible for remarks made by other Republican politicians and it’s just a big game of gotcha.
Clearly frustrated, Stephanopoulos continued to push Cotton to criticize Trump but Cotton held firm. When asked if he’ll support Trump in 2024 if he runs again, Cotton brushed off the question and did his own pivoting back to Putin’s war in Ukraine.
“George, I’m not worried about this fall’s election right now, much less an election two years from now. I’m focused on the naked war of aggression that Vladimir Putin has launched in Ukraine right now. There’s not a moment to lose. We can worry about electoral politics down the road,” Cotton said.
Poor George. He tried about five times to get Cotton to criticize Trump. Republicans with presidential ambitions of their own don’t want to be on the bad side of Trump, that is true, but in the meantime, Cotton showed his colleagues how to handle Democrats who want them to criticize Trump or other Republican politicians. I hope they were taking notes.