Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine May Be Fatal to Trump

By invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has united the world against him, torched his economy, exposed the incompetence of his military and jeopardized his hold on power. He’s also done serious harm to his faithful friend, Donald Trump.

Of course Trump has contributed to this damage, as he often does. After the invasion began, he praised Putin’s “genius” and remarked, “He’s taking over a country for $2 worth of sanctions. I’d say that’s pretty smart.” Trump couldn’t wait to remind Putin of his unconditional devotion.

That supine posture can’t be appealing to anyone this side of Tucker Carlson. It looks especially foolish and craven next to the brave defiance of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. And it provides additional evidence for Republicans that nominating Trump in 2024 could be a fatal blunder.

In most ways, the next election looks promising for the GOP. According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, only 42% of Americans approve of Joe Biden’s performance, while 57% disapprove. Inflation is surging, and the Fed’s efforts to contain it could trigger a recession.

The poll found that 46% of Americans plan to vote for a Republican in this year’s House elections, compared with 41% who prefer a Democrat.

Republicans are likely to have another advantage in 2024. Biden will be 81, which will not be a selling point. Should Biden decide not to run, he has no obvious heir — and the GOP nominee won’t have the burden of unseating an incumbent president.

Nominating Trump would squander much of the party’s advantage. He has already lost the popular vote twice. The record of losers who are renominated is dismal. Republican Thomas Dewey lost to Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 and to Harry Truman in 1948. Democrat Adlai Stevenson got trounced by Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956.

It was in reference to Dewey that Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, said, “Any woman knows you can’t make a souffle rise twice.”

Republican Richard Nixon managed to win after falling short on his first try, but he had to wait eight years. Only one losing incumbent has ever made it back to the White House — Grover Cleveland, in 1892.

Trump already appears to be losing influence in his party. A recent YouGov poll found that 85% of Republicans regard Russia as an enemy — up from 51% in 2017.

The National Journal’s political columnist Josh Kraushaar reports that he “is staring at a real chance that his endorsed candidates go zero-for-three in competitive Senate primaries in May.” In that case, Republicans who feared his wrath may feel emboldened.

On top of these drawbacks is the former president’s record of deference to a tyrant who is angling to be indicted for war crimes. His latest praise of Putin is nothing if not predictable.

From the time he announced his candidacy in 2015, Trump couldn’t have been more subservient if he had been courting Putin’s daughter. He frequently said that he “would get along with Putin,” whom he described as “brilliant” and “a strong leader.”

In office, Trump was ever eager to please. He called to congratulate Putin on his 2018 election victory — disregarding briefing instructions that said, “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.” He lobbied to restore Russia to the G-7, from which it was banished for its 2014 invasion of Crimea.

At a summit meeting in Helsinki, Trump was asked if he agreed with his own intelligence agencies that Putin had meddled in the 2016 election. “President Putin said it wasn’t Russia,” he replied, as Putin gazed on benignly. “I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

He was mocked as “Putin’s poodle,” which was an injustice to poodles.

Republicans accuse Biden of inviting Russian aggression with his withdrawal from Afghanistan and other displays of “weakness.” Nominating Trump would pretty well nullify that charge.

Biden gets low marks for his handling of the economy but high ones on Ukraine. By imposing stiff sanctions and sending arms to Ukraine but avoiding direct military involvement, he’s managed to avoid either appeasement or war. Despite high gasoline prices, his ban on Russian oil imports wins support from 79% of voters.

Anyone running against Trump in 2024 will be able to run scathing TV spots showing him repeatedly praising Putin, interspersed with grim footage of Russian tanks and bleeding Ukrainians. The tagline: “A vote for Trump is a vote for Putin.”

The GOP has plenty of possible nominees who are not Kremlin stooges. A smart party would choose one of them.

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Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune. His twice-a-week column on national and international affairs, distributed by Creators Syndicate, appears in some 50 papers across the country.