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McConnell can ignore GOP's Putin wing but it's not going away

The Republican leader can't dismiss the power of his party's anti-Ukraine, pro-Russia faction — no matter how hard he tries.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday downplayed his party’s Russia acolytes, who’ve echoed many of Russian President Vladimir Putin's talking points as his brutal invasion of Ukraine continues. 

Appearing on CBS’ "Face the Nation," McConnell said “the vast majority of the Republican Party writ large, both in the Congress and across the country, are totally behind the Ukrainians."

"There may be a few lonely voices off the side," he added. "I wouldn’t pay much attention to them.”

Wouldn’t it be grand if we could simply wish our problems away?

For the record: the GOP’s support for Ukraine has long been in doubt, even before Reps. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia started spouting Kremlin talking points publicly. Republicans overwhelmingly supported then-President Donald Trump during his impeachment trial in which he was accused of withholding defense weapons from Ukraine for political gain.

Regardless, McConnell clearly knows Cawthorn's and Greene's open embrace of pro-Russian arguments is out of step with a majority of Americans and, thus, politically dangerous. Now he’s simply trying to wipe them from our consciousness. 

Wouldn’t it be grand if we could simply wish our problems away? 

Unfortunately for McConnell, Republican Russophiles can’t be dismissed that easily, no matter how small in number he claims them to be. Part of the reason the adage “politics stops at the water’s edge” exists is because it acknowledges the outsize power each lawmaker can have in throwing off the country's diplomatic efforts. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a news conference on March 15.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a news conference on March 15.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images

In Cawthorn’s case, his diatribe condemning Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his administration has already been plastered across Russian state media. Propaganda like that is helpful to the Kremlin in maintaining support for the invasion, and that support has helped the war continue on as it has. In that way, Cawthorn has and can undermine the United States’ diplomatic interests all on his own. The fact he might be “lonely” in his views — as McConnell claims — doesn’t prevent him from doing harm. 

Greene doesn't appear to have had her big break on Russian TV, but she’s well on her way. She too has hewed close to Kremlin talking points, including in a video she released last week that essentially called for the U.S. to stop supporting Ukraine’s defensive efforts against Russia. 

“It’s not our responsibility to give Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people false hope about a war they cannot win,” she claimed. 

McConnell can’t deny that their comments are empowering Russia, if only by providing fodder for it to spread to the masses. That can't be forgotten or ignored.