Donald Trump on Saturday claimed to be a supporter of Ukraine, days after saying Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “genius” for starting the invasion.
“The Russian attack on Ukraine is appalling. It’s an outrage, and an atrocity that should never have been allowed to occur,” he said Saturday night at CPAC. “We are praying for the proud people of Ukraine.”
Trump immediately steered his remarks back to his favorite topic: his false claim that he was the winner of the 2020 election. “As everyone understands, this horrific disaster would never have happened if our election was not rigged, and if I was the president,” he said. “Very simple: it wouldn’t have happened.”
On Monday, when Putin ordered troops into separatist-backed regions in Ukraine under the guise of a “peacekeeping” military presence, Trump gushed over the Russian leader.
“I said, ‘This is genius,’” the ex-president said on a right-wing podcast. “Putin declared a big portion of … Ukraine … as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful. … I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s going to go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force. … We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re going to keep the peace all right. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy…”
Those comments were ill-informed at the time in light of the consistent warnings from U.S. officials of an attack. They also aged terribly, since Putin did end up ordering an invasion of Ukraine. Once that occurred on Wednesday, Trump took the opportunity to blame the Biden administration’s “weakness,” and said the attack “all happened because of a rigged election.”
On Saturday, Trump again called Putin “smart.” The member states of NATO, on the other hand, “are not so smart. They’re looking the opposite of smart.”
Trump calls Putin smart, says NATO is not so smart, and calls our leaders dumb pic.twitter.com/lEEymSPSby
— Acyn (@Acyn) February 27, 2022
Trump has a long history of doling out praise to the Russian leader. When Putin ordered the invasion of the Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014, Trump said pretty much the same thing he did throughout this week.
Also, when Putin denied interfering in the 2016 presidential election at a 2018 summit in Helsinki, Trump infamously defended the Russian leader, effectively thumbing his nose at his own intelligence agencies which concluded that Putin did, in fact, orchestrate election meddling to benefit Trump.
Trump’s about-face mirrors similar moves by notable conservatives like Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who, after being repeatedly quoted on Russia’s state-run TV for his string of Putin-friendly comments, finally came around and put the blame solely on the Kremlin. On Tuesday, Carlson had said this on his primetime show: “It may be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious, what is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much?” He added, “Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?” Two days later, he told his audience that Putin “started this war, so whatever the context of the decision that he made, he did it. He fired the first shots.”
Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance made a similar shift. “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other,” he had said earlier this week. Writing on Twitter on Saturday, though, Vance’s tune is now quite different: “The whole world is very united in standing up for Ukraine.”
Trump’s remarks on the crisis in eastern Europe came after he hinted at a 2024 run for the White House.
“We did it twice, and we’ll do it again,” Trump said, being deliberately vague about whether he was referring to simply running for the office, or winning the presidency. (The latter case would, of course, be a lie since Trump lost the 2020 election.) “We’re going to be doing it again a third time,” Trump said. “November 2024 they will find out like never before.”
Either way, Trump did push the ‘Big Lie’ that the previous election was fraudulent. And so by taking the stage and issuing this sort of inane blather, Trump is keeping up CPAC tradition, and 2022 has been no exception.
Over the last three days, speakers at the annual gathering of conservatives have generally preferred to lean into cultural issues than discuss policy. The red meat topics of “wokeness” and being “cancelled” by the government or liberal elites have been deployed by the likes of Florida Sen. Rick Scott, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Above all, however, CPAC speakers have lavished praise on their god emperor. “Conservative leaders can learn something from our wonderful 45th president of the United States,” Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk said in his speech on Thursday. “I want our leaders to care more about you and our fellow countrymen than some abstract idea or abstract G.D.P. number.”
This sentiment helps explain why the critical topic of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, for instance, was largely sidelined during the multi-day conference. When there was a discussion on the matter involving K.T. McFarland, Trump’s former deputy national security adviser, Right Side Broadcasting Network instead cut away to air an interview with John Schnatter, the founder of Papa John’s.