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As Pence slams Putin ‘apologists,’ his Trump-era record lingers

If Mike Pence is concerned about the GOP's Putin “apologists,” why didn’t he speak up as Donald Trump kowtowed to Moscow?

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It’s hardly unreasonable for Mike Pence to be concerned about elements of his party feeling sympathy for Vladimir Putin. For much of the last decade, parts of the Republican base have expressed unnerving fondness for Russia’s authoritarian leader, and while such talk briefly disappeared after the invasion of Ukraine, a growing number of GOP lawmakers are eager to curtail U.S. support for Kyiv — which is exactly what the Kremlin is counting on.

Indeed, just this week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy declared that if voters elect a Republican majority in a few weeks, as now appears likely, he’ll end the “blank check” policy toward our Ukrainian allies.

It was against this backdrop that the former vice president suggested yesterday that contingents within the GOP are on the wrong track. The Associated Press reported:

Former Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday warned against the growing populist tide in the Republican Party as he admonished “Putin apologists” unwilling to stand up to the Russian leader over his assault on Ukraine.

“Now, I know there is a rising chorus in our party, including some new voices to our movement, who would have us disengaged with the wider world,” Pence said in remarks delivered at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “But appeasement has never worked, ever, in history. And now more than ever, we need a conservative movement committed to America’s role as leader of the free world and as a vanguard of American values.”

The Republican Hoosier added, “There can be no room in the conservative movement for apologists to Putin. There is only room in this movement for champions of freedom.”

The comments were provocative in part because they reinforced impressions of a growing intra-party split: When it comes to Western leadership and U.S. support for Ukraine, it’s increasingly obvious that Republicans are not on the same page and the bipartisan unity on the issue that existed months ago is evaporating.

But there’s a related issue hanging overhead: If Pence believes it’s important to reject “apologists to Putin,” why didn’t he say anything while serving alongside Donald Trump?

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

Before getting elected in 2016, Trump already showed signs of weakness when it came to his political benefactors in Moscow. During the Republican National Convention, for example, the candidate and his team showed no real interest in the platform’s contents, except to remove language about providing Ukraine with defensive weapons.

Also before Election Day, Trump touted Putin for having “outsmarted“ U.S. leaders.

All the while, Trump was seeking, receiving, benefiting from, and lying about Russia’s intervention in the 2016 elections on his behalf.

During the post-election presidential transition period, Trump spoke openly about easing sanctions on Russia, which roughly coincided with Michael Flynn’s secret communications with Russia, which he would later lie about to the FBI.

Two weeks after his inauguration day, Trump talked about his “respect” for Putin. Reminded that the Russian autocrat is a “killer,” the new American president questioned his own country’s moral authority. “We’ve got a lot of killers,” the Republican said. “What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”

Two weeks later, top members of Trump’s team explored ways to lift sanctions against Russia.

Trump had only been in office for a few months when he prepared to reward Russia — apparently in exchange for nothing — by giving it diplomatic compounds on American soil that had been taken during the Obama administration.

The same month, Trump welcomed Russian diplomats into the Oval Office — at Putin’s request — at which time the Republican revealed highly classified information to his Russian guests for no apparent reason.

By July 2017, as Congress approved new sanctions against Russia for having attacked our elections, the Trump White House tried to weaken the legislation. The then-president grudgingly signed the bill — not because he supported it, but because it passed by veto-proof margins. He then issued a statement criticizing Congress’ proposal.

The same month, Trump had a private chat with Putin, after which the Republican announced plans to partner with Russia on an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit.”

In August 2017, the Russian government expelled 755 people from the American embassy and consulate staff. Trump responded by “thanking” Putin and saying he “greatly appreciated” the striking diplomatic move.

In early 2018, after Putin won a sham election, White House officials pleaded with Trump not to congratulate the Russian leader. The Republican ignored them.

A few months later, Trump appeared alongside Putin in Helsinki, lashed out at Americans he doesn’t like, and announced that he considered the Russian leader more reliable than his own country’s intelligence agencies. As 2018 neared its end, Trump lifted Russian sanctions.

In 2019, he also leveraged military aid to launch an illegal extortion scheme with Ukraine, personally forced out a capable U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, and called for Russia to be welcomed back into the G7.

During his re-election campaign, Trump also prepared to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany, which also happened to be in line with Moscow’s wishes.

All the while, Trump criticized NATO, expressed disdain for the European Union, and undermined democracy in the United States — which also put the Republican’s agenda in line with Putin’s plans.

Trump’s own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, suggested to Bob Woodward that he couldn’t shake the suspicion that Trump was beholden to Putin.

Even after Putin began his invasion of Ukraine, Trump made no effort to hide his adulation. The Republican described the Russian leader’s military offensive as “genius” and “very savvy.” Referring to Putin declaring portions of Ukraine as independent, Trump said it was a “wonderful” strategy.

The former U.S. president even went so far as to endorse the Kremlin’s rhetoric, saying Putin would “be a peacekeeper,” adding, “They’re gonna keep peace all right.”

Soon after, Trump kept going, issuing a written statement touting Putin and admonishing his own country’s president. The Republican kept the celebration going at Mar-a-Lago, telling an assembled crowd how “smart” Putin was for launching a military offensive against his neighbor.

What did Pence have to say about any of this? Nothing.

“There can be no room in the conservative movement for apologists to Putin?” That’s an interesting line for a former vice president who sat on his hands and nodded as Trump spent years demonstrating nothing but weakness toward Moscow.