A friend of mine recently asked why I'm so hung up on Russian President Vladimir Putin and the adulation he's received from Republicans in the U.S. I think it comes down to two things.
The first is that GOP gushing over the Russian autocrat has always struck me as a historical oddity: I simply can't think of a comparable moment in modern American history in which the United States butted heads with a major foreign rival, and prominent figures from an American political party started publicly praising the other country's leader. It served as a reminder that Republican contempt for President Obama has reached levels that defy simple, patriotic norms.
The second, however, is more basic: a variety of conservative Americans not only expressed their admiration for Putin, they also saw him as a strategic mastermind, guiding Russia towards power and greatness, and demonstrating the kind of leadership needed in the United States.
And so, as we watch conditions in Russia deteriorate to alarming lows, I continue to believe it's incumbent on Republicans to offer an explanation for how spectacularly wrong they were.
A funny thing happened on the way to Vladimir Putin running strategic laps around the West. Russia's economy imploded.
The latest news is that Russia's central bank raised interest rates from 10.5 to 17 percent at an emergency 1 a.m. meeting in an attempt to stop the ruble, which is down 50 percent on the year against the dollar, from falling any further. It's a desperate move to save Russia's currency that comes at the cost of sacrificing Russia's economy. So even if it "works," things are about to get a lot worse.
In a not-so-subtle shot at Putin's American fans, Matt O'Brien's terrific report concluded, "Putin might be playing chess while we play checkers, but only if we lend him the money for the set."
Russia suddenly has nothing but awful options. Falling oil prices has crushed Russian currency, which leads to brutal inflation. In response, Russia's central bank -- in a panicked, middle-of-the-night move -- created much higher interest rates, which will crush Russian economic growth.
All the while, Putin's military misadventures have isolated the country economically and diplomatically, leaving Russia with sanctions that make matters even worse.
All of which brings us back to the fact that much of America's right was absolutely convinced of Putin's genius.