There’s little doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin has succeeded in achieving near-total control over the Republican Party. They’re gutting aid to Ukraine (and have been for over a year), working to kneecap our economy, whipping up hatred among Americans against each other, promoting civil war, and openly embracing replacing American democracy with authoritarian autocracy.
Putin has declared war on queer people, proclaimed Russia a “Christian nation,” and shut down all the media he called “fake news.” Check, check, check.
Most recently, the three-year “Biden bribery” hysteria Republicans in the House have been running — including thousands of hits on Fox “News” and all over rightwing hate radio — turns out to have been a Russian intelligence operation originally designed to help Trump win the 2020 election. The Russian spy who’d been feeding this phony info to “Gym” Jordan and James “Gomer Pyle” Comer is now in jail.
Over the past two years, as America was using Russia’s terrorist attacks on Ukraine to degrade the power and influence of Russia’s military, Putin was using social media, Republican politicians, and rightwing American commentators to get Republican politicians on his side and thus kill off US aid to Ukraine.
The war in Gaza is making it even easier, with Putin-aligned politicians like Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeting: “Any funding for Ukraine should be redirected to Israel immediately.”
Russia’s battlefield, in other words, has now shifted from Ukraine to the US political system and our homes via radio, TV, and the internet, all in the hopes of ending US aid to the democracy they’ve brutally attacked.
And the momentum is following that shift: Russia is close to having the upper hand in Ukraine because of Putin’s ability — via Trump and Johnson — to get Republican politicians to mouth his talking points and propaganda.
Now, with Speaker “Moscow Mike” Johnson shutting down the House of Representatives so nobody can offer a discharge petition that would force a vote on Ukraine aid (and aid for Palestinian refugees, Taiwan, and our southern border), it’s becoming more and more clear that Vladimir Putin is running the Republican party via his well-paid stooge, Donald Trump.
I say “well paid” because Donald Trump would have been reduced to homelessness in the early 1990s if it weren’t for Russian money, as both of his sons have said at different times. He’d burned through all of his father’s estate, even stealing a large part of it from his siblings. He’d lost or hidden almost two billion dollars running a casino.
As Michael Hirsch noted for Foreign Policy magazine:
“By the early 1990s he had burned through his portion of his father Fred’s fortune with a series of reckless business decisions. Two of his businesses had declared bankruptcy, the Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City and the Plaza Hotel in New York, and the money pit that was the Trump Shuttle went out of business in 1992. Trump companies would ultimately declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy two more times.”
He’d been forced to repeatedly declare bankruptcy — sticking American banks for over a billion dollars in unpaid bills — after draining his businesses of free cash and stashing the money in places he hoped nobody would ever find.
No American bank would touch him, and property developers in New York were waiting for his entire little empire to collapse. Instead, a desperate Trump reached out to foreign dictators and mobsters, who were more than happy to supply funds to an influential New York businessman…for a price to be paid in the future.
He sold over $100 million worth of condos to more than sixty Russian citizens during that era, and partnered with professional criminals and money launderers to raise money for Trump properties in Azerbaijan and Panama. According to Trump himself, he sold $40 to $50 million worth of apartments to the Saudis.
He then partnered with a former high Soviet official, Tevfik Arif, and a Russian businessman, Felix Sater, who’d been found guilty of running a “huge stock-fraud scheme involving the Russian mafia.”
As the founders of Fusion GPS wrote for The New York Times in 2018:
“The Trump family’s business entanglements are of more than historical significance. Americans need to be sure that major foreign policy decisions are made in the national interest — not because of foreign ties forged by the president’s business ventures.”
Thus, when it came time to run for president, Trump had to pay the price. He and the people around him were inundated with offers of “help” from Russians, most associated directly with Putin or the Russian mafia.
Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had been paid millions by Putin’s oligarchs and ran Trump’s campaign for free. Reporters found over a dozen connections between Russia and the Trump campaign, and during the 2016 campaign Trump was secretly negotiating a deal to open a Trump tower in Moscow. Trump’s son and his lawyer met with Putin’s agents in Trump Tower.
Putin’s personal troll army, the Internet Research Agency (IRA) based out of St. Petersburg but operating worldwide, began a major campaign in 2016 to get Trump elected president.
Manafort fed Russian intelligence raw data from internal Republican polling that identified a few hundred thousand individuals in a half-dozen or so swing states the GOP thought could be persuaded to vote for Trump (or against Hillary), and the IRA immediately went to work, reaching out to them via mostly Facebook.
Mueller’s report and multiple journalistic investigations have noted that the most common message out of Russia then was directed at Democratic-leaning voters and was, essentially, “both parties are the same so it’s a waste of time to vote.”
“‘The most prolific I.R.A. efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing black audiences and recruiting black Americans as assets,’ the report says. Using Gmail accounts with American-sounding names, the Russians recruited and sometimes paid unwitting American activists of all races to stage rallies and spread content, but there was a disproportionate pursuit of African-Americans, it concludes.
“The report says that while ‘other distinct ethnic and religious groups were the focus of one or two Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts, the black community was targeted extensively by dozens.’ In some cases, Facebook ads were targeted at users who had shown interest in particular topics, including black history, the Black Panther Party and Malcolm X. The most popular of the Russian Instagram accounts was @blackstagram, with 303,663 followers.
“The Internet Research Agency also created a dozen websites disguised as African-American in origin, with names like blackmattersus.com, blacktivist.info, blacktolive.org and blacksoul.us.”
And it appears to have worked in suppressing the potential Black Democratic vote in swing states.
A 2018 bipartisan Senate report found the Russian efforts consequential, as the BBC headline on that analysis summarizes:
“Russian trolls’ chief target was ‘black US voters’ in 2016.”
The news story summarizes:
“A Senate inquiry has concluded that a Russian fake-news campaign targeted ‘no single group… more than African-Americans.’ …
“Thousands of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and You Tube accounts created by the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) were aimed at harming Hillary Clinton’s campaign and supporting Donald Trump, the committee concludes.
“More than 66% of Facebook adverts posted by the Russian troll farm contained a term related to race.
“African-American community voters were discouraged from voting, and from supporting Hillary Clinton.”
Between the information compiled by Oxford Analytica and the details passed along from the GOP to Prigozhin via Manafort, a mere margin of 43,000 votes across a handful of swing states —all microtargeted by Russia — handed the electoral college to Trump, even though he lost the nationwide vote to Hillary Clinton by almost 3 million ballots.
So now Trump has succeeded in making the entire GOP a party to his long-term debt to Putin and his oligarchs. “Moscow Mike” Johnson has blocked any aid to Ukraine for over a year; the last congressional appropriation for foreign aid was passed in 2022, when Nancy Pelosi ran the House.
Meanwhile, under Trump’s and Putin’s direction, Republicans in Congress are doing everything they can to damage the people of the United States.
They believe it will help them in the 2024 election if they can ruin the US economy while convincing American voters that our system of government is so corrupt (“deep state”) that we should consider replacing democracy with an autocratic strongman form of government like Putin’s Russia. Tucker Carlson is even suggesting that Russia is a better place to live than the US.
They revel in pitting racial, religious, and gender groups against each other while embracing a form of fascism that pretends to be grounded in Christianity, all while welcoming Putin’s social media trolls who are promoting these divisions.
Republican-aligned think tanks are working on Project 2025, a naked attempt to consolidate power in the White House to support a strongman president who can override the will of the people, privatize Social Security and Medicare, shut down our public school system, fully criminalize abortion and homosexuality (Sam Alito called for something like that this week), and abandon our democratic allies in favor of a realignment with Russia, China, and North Korea.
Trump got us here by openly playing to the fears and prejudices of white people who are freaked out by the rapid post-1964 “browning” of America. Putin jumped in to help amplify the message a thousandfold with his social media trolls, who are posting thousands of times a day as you read these words.
Now that Putin largely controls the GOP, today’s question is how far Republicans are willing to go in their campaign to bring the USA to her knees on behalf of Putin and Trump.
— When Congress comes back into session next week, will they take up Ukraine aid?
— Will they continue their opposition to comprehensive immigration and border reform?
— Will they keep pushing to privatize Social Security with their new “commission”?
— Will they work as hard to kneecap Taiwan on behalf of President Xi as they have Ukraine on behalf of Putin?
— Will they continue to quote Russian Intelligence propaganda in their effort to smear President Biden?
— Instead of just 7 Republicans going to Moscow to “celebrate” the Fourth of July, will the entire party move their event to that city like the NRA did? Or to Budapest, like CPAC did?
Or will the GOP suddenly start listening to the rational voices left in their party, the Mitt Romneys and Liz Cheneys who still believe in democracy (even if they want to gut the social safety net and turn loose the polluters)?