Whether its leaders and members realize it, the Republican Party is at risk of becoming the Vladimir Putin-aligned party in the United States. It can be convincingly argued that it’s already similar to Putin-supported parties in Europe, given Donald Trump’s presidency, the Republican base’s increasingly favorable views of Moscow, and the House GOP leadership’s disinterest in investigating and preventing Russian interference.
Increasingly sophisticated Russian influence and cyberoperations threaten Americans’ ability to choose their own leaders. This isn’t hyperbole. In fact, it’s hard to overstate just how serious this issue is. Yet, President Trump continues to sow doubt about whether Moscow even interfered in the 2016 presidential elections and to suggest the question’s insignificance by ignoring it all together.
Our commander in chief seems more interested in protecting Moscow than he does in deterring its future attacks. The Washington Post reported that the administration is actually considering allowing the Russian government to reopen the two spy compounds that President Barack Obama closed in late December in response to Russia’s election attack. There are also reports that the White House plans to step up lobbying efforts against a new Russia sanctions bill that the Senate passed with overwhelming bipartisan support this month. The measure would add new financial sanctions and require congressional review before Trump could lift these or other retaliatory measures currently levied against Moscow, including the closing of the two compounds.
Worse, Trump appears to have some support in this from Republican leaders in the House. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, have delayed the bill, citing the constitutional requirement that such bills originate in the House.
This is little more than a red herring. Nothing prevents them from inserting the text of the Senate bill into a House measure, passing it and sending it back to the Senate for final approval, which it would likely grant under expedited procedures. Instead, Ryan and McCarthy appear to be more interested in delaying and weakening the bill.
Behind their neglect are changing Republican voter opinions, which are becoming alarmingly more pro-Russian. According to a Morning Consult-Politico poll conducted in May, 49 percent of Republican voters consider Russia to be either an ally or friendly. Only 12 percent consider it an enemy. In 2015, only 12 percent of Republicans held a favorable view of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Gallup. As of February, that figure had jumped to 32 percent.
These dangerous trends impair the nation’s will to protect itself, and they are entirely the result of Republican leadership’s failure to oppose Trump from the beginning. Republican voters had long held a healthy distrust of Putin, but Trump’s persistent affinity for Moscow and other Republican leaders’ silence are changing Republican voters’ minds, now making it politically costly for GOP leaders to defend the nation from this foreign adversary.
Because they control the executive and legislative branches, it is ultimately up to Republican leaders to prevent future Russian attacks on American democracy, even if such attacks may benefit the party electorally. Deterrence is an indispensable part of this equation. It cannot be accomplished without punishing Moscow for its violations of our sovereignty and threatening harsher responses for future trespasses.
In passing the Russia sanctions bill, Senate Republicans have shown they understand this. GOP leaders in the House must work with their Senate colleagues to pass a strong sanctions package that requires a congressional review of changes to Russia sanctions implementation desired by the president. He simply cannot be trusted to protect the integrity of America’s democracy on his own.
Republican leaders and the party are at a crossroads. They will either choose liberty in an independent America or to serve a distant, foreign master who seeks no more than to enrich and empower himself at the expense of free society everywhere. If Republican leaders choose the latter, the majority of Americans will have no choice but to hold them accountable as opponents to the cause of freedom.
Evan McMullin is a former CIA operations officer who ran as an independent candidate in the 2016 presidential election. He is co-founder of the nonprofit Stand Up Republic.