Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting to discuss the Ukrainian peace process at the German federal Chancellery on Oct. 19, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. 
Photo by Adam Berry/Getty

Many Republican voters decide Putin’s not so bad after all

When Donald Trump invested quite a bit of energy in 2016 singing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s praises, there was an inherent electoral risk. Putin is not only the leader of an American adversary, but he’s also an authoritarian whom the American mainstream broadly disapproves of.

As it turns out, the risk didn’t matter – Trump won the election anyway, thanks in part to an illegal Russian espionage operation – and the Republican president’s success managed to change some Americans’ perceptions. Gallup reported yesterday:
Americans see Russian President Vladimir Putin in a better light than two years ago. Twenty-two percent now say they have a favorable opinion of Putin, up from 13% in 2015 and the highest percentage with a favorable view of the Russian leader since 2003. […]

A major reason for the overall rise in Putin’s favorable rating this year is Republicans’ more positive views of the Russian leader, from 12% in 2015 to 32% today.
It’d obviously be a stretch to characterize Putin as popular in the United States, but the fact that the Russian leader’s support among Republicans has nearly tripled over the course of a few years is extraordinary.

Washington Post piece added, “That movement is likely attributable to Trump’s praise for Putin on the campaign trail…. In recent years, we’ve seen opinions on most every issue begin to track more and more with partisanship. Republicans like Trump, so they like who Trump likes. Period.”

Agreed. So much of politics is now driven by tribal instincts. Republicans had no use for the Russian autocrat – right up until he and their party’s president forged an awkward partnership.

For roughly a third of GOP voters, the calculus isn’t especially complicated: Trump likes Putin, Putin helped elect a Republican president, ergo, Putin’s not such a bad guy after all.

The question now is whether congressional Republicans will go along. The White House’s affection for Moscow notwithstanding, most GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill remain hostile towards Putin. If the attitudes of the Republican base are shifting, will their allied elected representatives feel pressured to scale back their criticisms?