Vladimir Putin’s [T/t]rump card

See updates through November 7, 2022, at end of post.



Fig. 1. “The prime-minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán during the talks in Moscow.” Unattributed photograph, January 14, 2014, credited to Kremlin.ru, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0.

The uncomfortable truth for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is that two of its members, Turkey[1] and Hungary,[2] are not all on board with NATO’s support for Ukraine.

Turkey’s objections to Finnish and Swedish accession to NATO probably—only probably—reduce mostly to an ongoing conflict with Kurds, especially those who seek their own independent homeland.[3] Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, on the other hand, leads a movement that has gained power by promoting white Christian nationalism,[4] which Vladimir Putin has embraced,[5] and which, in the U.S., I have labeled Trumpism.[6]

In France, the xenophobic and anti-NATO Marine Le Pen, who has been more than friends with Russia and Vladimir Putin, did more than worry the establishment with her challenge to Emmanuel Macron for the presidency.[7]

This is probably Putin’s last card to play in his invasion of Ukraine that now appears to be an interminable failure.[8] In Europe, it appears a bit of a stretch; Hungary and Turkey are by no means the entire alliance. Even in the U.S., it’s hard to see that even a majority of Trumpists sympathize with Russia.

But Christian white nationalism is a factor I have underestimated in U.S. politics even as it has unified five of the seven tendencies of conservatism I identified in my dissertation. While as of now, it still appears unlikely, I worry it may yet prove to be Putin’s trump card, particularly as Trumpists—white Christian nationalists—seize control of the United States.[9]


Update, May 31, 2022: Julia Ioffe is unlikely to have read my last blog post[10] on Ukraine. But she shares my fear that Donald Trump will win in 2024[11] and my concern[12] that the white Christian nationalist isolationists will undermine support for Ukraine’s defense against Russia.[13]

Moreover, it’s not just apple-pie American isolationism, not after Trump’s victory in 2016. Trump showed that there is a genuine ideological affinity for Putin in America. He is an aspirational leader for many on the right, including Carlson and Trump. Putin is unapologetically white, Christian, and traditional. He hates gay people and feminists and effete, urban intellectuals. He is a nationalist who doesn’t care about democratic niceties. He does what he wants and he takes what he wants, like a real man. If this wing of the G.O.P. is again ascendant in 2024, then Ukraine better hope it has won the war by then.[14]

As I wrote in my 2024 forecast, I am far from fond of issuing forecasts this far in advance. But it is very, very, very hard to see what stops the Republicans from seizing control of Congress in this November’s election and what stops Trump from winning back the presidency in 2024.[15] Frankly, this forecast right now looks nearly safe enough to take to the bank.


Update, September 26, 2022: It seems it isn’t just Russia that can rattle a nuclear sabre:[16]

We have communicated directly, privately and at very high levels to the Kremlin that any use of nuclear weapons will be met with catastrophic consequences for Russia, that the US and our allies will respond decisively, and we have been clear and specific about what that will entail.[17]

But with extreme right-wing parties’ electoral gains in Sweden and Italy,[18] Vladimir Putin’s gamble that western conservatives would undermine support for Ukraine[19] may be about to pay off. At least some Republicans in the U.S. would cut aid to Ukraine[20] but with Donald Trump’s legal troubles undermining Republicans’ formerly rosy electoral prospects,[21] I’m now skeptical they’ll get the chance.[22] The balance of power in Europe, however, may be swinging against Ukraine.[23]


Update, November 7, 2022: Ishaan Tharoor warns that if Republicans do as well in the midterm elections on November 8 as many expect, they may very well put a squeeze on funding for Ukraine’s defense against Russia, in part because many of them feel much more of a kinship to the likes of Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán than to the cosmopolitan West.[24] I’ve been back and forth on this prospect as illiberal politicians have done well electorally in Europe and as I have been cautiously optimistic that Republicans might be headed for defeat in the midterms.[25] Right now, with the midterms a day away, the best I can say is that it’s nail-biting time.

But of course, the risk isn’t just on the right. As Tharoor notes,[26] there are tankies, who favor any imperialism as long as it isn’t U.S. or North Atlantic Treaty Organization imperialism,[27] even among so-called progressives in Congress,[28] and, as I have discovered to my horror, among leading figures in the Green Party in the U.S., lending support to a claim that support for the Green Party is in fact support for Republicans,[29] and thus white Christian nationalism.

As I look at the many yard signs for John Fetterman (the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate) and Josh Shapiro (the Democratic nominee for governor) even in areas of southwestern Pennsylvania where I would not expect to see them, however, and as I see the vastly diminished number of yard signs and campaign flags for Donald Trump, I have to suspect that the forecasts of a Republican takeover in the House of Representatives may be overblown;[30] these forecasts, whether optimistic or pessimistic, are, after all, based on a bogus non-methodology (polls with single-digit response rates[31]). But I think the tankies’ betrayal affects my intuition perhaps even more than white Christian nationalism itself: I feel a deep unease now on many issues, certainly not just Ukraine.

  1. [1]Bloomberg, “Ukraine Latest: NATO Embraces Sweden, Finland; US Aid Vote Nears,” May 15, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-05-15/ukraine-latest-nato-has-frank-talks-with-turkey-on-accession; Deutschewelle, “NATO: Turkey outlines demands on Finland and Sweden membership,” May 15, 2022, https://www.dw.com/en/nato-turkey-outlines-demands-on-finland-and-sweden-membership/a-61806003; Jon Henley, “Turkey says it will not approve Sweden and Finland joining Nato,” Guardian, May 16, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/16/russia-finland-sweden-nato-ukraine-war; Jared Malsin, “Turkey Lays Out Demands as Finland, Sweden Plan NATO Entry,” Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/turkey-lays-out-demands-as-finland-sweden-plan-nato-entry-11652722492; Ishaan Tharoor, “Turkey’s awkward role in the Russia-Ukraine war,” Washington Post, May 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/05/20/turkey-ukraine-erdogan-russia-nato/; Patrick Wintour, “Why has Erdoğan doubled down on threat to veto Nordic Nato bids?” Guardian, May 18, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/18/erdogan-doubles-down-on-threat-to-veto-nordic-nato-membership
  2. [2]Drew Hinshaw and Laurence Norman, “Hungary’s Orban Keeps EU Guessing Over Russian Oil Embargo,” Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/hungarys-orban-keeps-eu-guessing-over-russian-oil-embargo-11653053395
  3. [3]Bloomberg, “Ukraine Latest: NATO Embraces Sweden, Finland; US Aid Vote Nears,” May 15, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-05-15/ukraine-latest-nato-has-frank-talks-with-turkey-on-accession; Deutschewelle, “NATO: Turkey outlines demands on Finland and Sweden membership,” May 15, 2022, https://www.dw.com/en/nato-turkey-outlines-demands-on-finland-and-sweden-membership/a-61806003; Jon Henley, “Turkey says it will not approve Sweden and Finland joining Nato,” Guardian, May 16, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/16/russia-finland-sweden-nato-ukraine-war; Jared Malsin, “Turkey Lays Out Demands as Finland, Sweden Plan NATO Entry,” Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/turkey-lays-out-demands-as-finland-sweden-plan-nato-entry-11652722492; Ishaan Tharoor, “Turkey’s awkward role in the Russia-Ukraine war,” Washington Post, May 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/05/20/turkey-ukraine-erdogan-russia-nato/; Patrick Wintour, “Why has Erdoğan doubled down on threat to veto Nordic Nato bids?” Guardian, May 18, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/18/erdogan-doubles-down-on-threat-to-veto-nordic-nato-membership
  4. [4]Zack Beauchamp, “Ron DeSantis is following a trail blazed by a Hungarian authoritarian,” Vox, April 28, 2022, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2022/4/28/23037788/ron-desantis-florida-viktor-orban-hungary-right-authoritarian; Jennifer Rankin, “ECJ dismisses Hungary and Poland’s complaints over rule-of-law measure,” Guardian, February 16, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/law/2022/feb/16/ecj-dismisses-hungary-poland-complaints-eu-rule-of-law-measure; Ishaan Tharoor, “U.S. conservatives yearn for Orban’s Hungary,” Washington Post, August 4, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2021/08/04/american-conservatives-orban-hungary/; Ishaan Tharoor, “The Orbanization of America: The U.S. right walks in Hungary’s path,” Washington Post, May 17, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/05/17/viktor-orban-american-right-illiberal-orbanization/; Ishaan Tharoor, “The Orbanization of America: Florida shadows Hungary’s war on LGBTQ rights,” Washington Post, May 18, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/05/18/cpac-hungary-lgbtq-orban-florida-desantis/; Ishaan Tharoor, “The Orbanization of America: How to capture a democracy,” Washington Post, May 18, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/05/18/orban-democracy-trump-united-states-elections-hungary/
  5. [5]Delia Gallagher, “Pope Francis warns pro-war Russian patriarch not to be ‘Putin’s altar boy,’” CNN, May 4, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/04/europe/pope-francis-patriarch-kirill-ukraine-invasion-intl/index.html; Reuters, “Patriarch urges soldiers to defend ‘peace-loving’ Russia amid Ukraine campaign,” April 3, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/patriarch-urges-soldiers-defend-peace-loving-russia-amid-ukraine-campaign-2022-04-03/
  6. [6]David Benfell, “My 2024 forecast,” Not Housebroken, May 19, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/10/my-2024-forecast/
  7. [7]Roger Cohen, “Emmanuel Macron Defeats Marine Le Pen for Second Term as French President,” New York Times, April 24, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/24/world/europe/french-election-results-macron-le-pen.html
  8. [8]William Booth, Robyn Dixon, and David L. Stern, “Russian generals are getting killed at an extraordinary rate,” Washington Post, March 26, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/26/ukraine-russan-generals-dead/; Larisa Brown, Charlie Parker, and Richard Spencer, “Ukraine forces ‘counter-attack’ as Russia loses estimated 7,000 troops and 230 tanks,” Times, March 18, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/ukraine-crisis-world-war-three-may-have-already-started-warns-zelensky-f5fs72vq5; Larisa Brown and Richard Spencer, “Struggling Russians ‘plant mines’ and dig in for a long war,” Times, March 21, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/retroville-mall-a-symbol-of-new-kyiv-is-destroyed-by-cruise-missile-0znsr9zc9; Robert Burns, “Russia’s failure to take down Kyiv was a defeat for the ages,” Associated Press, April 6, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-war-battle-for-kyiv-dc559574ce9f6683668fa221af2d5340; Helene Cooper, Julian E. Barnes, and Eric Schmitt, “As Russian Troop Deaths Climb, Morale Becomes an Issue, Officials Say,” New York Times, March 16, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/16/us/politics/russia-troop-deaths.html; Mark Galeotti, “How does Putin extract himself from this nightmare of his own making?” Times, March 5, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/how-does-putin-extract-himself-from-this-nightmare-of-his-own-making-v2ktvw08g; Michael R. Gordon and Alex Leary, “Russia, Failing to Achieve Early Victory in Ukraine, Is Seen Shifting to ‘Plan B,’” Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-failing-to-achieve-early-victory-in-ukraine-is-seen-shifting-to-plan-b-11647824374; Jon Henley, “Russia laments ‘tragedy’ of troop deaths as Zelenskiy warns of atrocities in Borodyanka,” Guardian, April 8, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/08/russia-laments-tragedy-of-troop-deaths-as-zelenskiy-warns-of-atrocities-in-borodyanka; Jon Henley, Pjotr Sauer, and Shaun Walker, “‘Ukrainians are not naive’: Zelenskiy voices doubt on Russian military withdrawals,” Guardian, March 29, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/29/ukraine-russia-peace-talks-istanbul-war-kyiv; Richard Kemp, “The Russian army has run out of time,” Telegraph, March 22, 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2022/03/22/russian-army-has-run-time/; Dan Lamothe, Alex Horton, and Karoun Demirjian, “Ukraine’s military adapts tactics after enduring Russia’s initial invasion,” Washington Post, March 5, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/03/05/ukraine-military-strategy/; Eric Levitz, “Putin’s War Looks Increasingly Insane,” New York, March 4, 2022, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/03/putins-war-looks-increasingly-insane.html; Matthew Luxmoore, “Russia Refocuses on Ukraine’s East After Month of Heavy Losses,” Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-refocuses-on-ukraines-east-after-month-of-heavy-losses-11648243627; James Mackenzie, Natalia Zinets, and Oleksandr Kozhukhar, “Russia getting bogged down in Ukraine, Western nations say,” Reuters, March 17, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/shells-hit-theatre-sheltering-ukraine-civilians-biden-calls-putin-war-criminal-2022-03-17/; Justin McCurry, Samantha Lock, and Luke Harding, “Russia targeting cities as strength of Ukraine’s resistance ‘continues to surprise’, UK says,” Guardian, March 6, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/06/biden-and-zelenskiy-discuss-more-aid-for-ukraine-as-russian-attacks-intensify; Ashley Parker et al., “‘No off-ramps’: U.S. and European officials don’t see a clear endgame in Ukraine,” Washington Post, March 11, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/03/10/ukraine-end-game/; Nebi Qena and Yuras Karmanau, “Russia shifts focus to try to grind Ukraine’s army in east,” Associated Press, March 28, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-putin-kyiv-business-europe-7386a5893a3b43bad7e438cfe45468c2; David Remnick, “The Weakness of the Despot,” New Yorker, March 11, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/stephen-kotkin-putin-russia-ukraine-stalin; Dan Sabbagh, “Is an outright Russian military victory in Ukraine possible?” Guardian, March 17, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/17/is-an-outright-russian-military-victory-in-ukraine-possible; Jamie Seidel, “Russia-Ukraine War: Putin’s Plan B is failing as Russian troops ‘pushed out’ of Donbas,” New Zealand Herald, May 7, 2022, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/russia-ukraine-war-putins-plan-b-is-failing-as-russian-troops-pushed-out-of-donbas/H73PJNRK3TJDUIN7YUCMI4DNM4/; Liz Sly and Max Bearak, “Russia pulls back from battered Kyiv region in major shift of war to east,” Washington Post, April 2, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/02/russia-ukraine-east/; Liz Sly and Dan Lamothe, “Russia’s war for Ukraine could be headed toward stalemate,” Washington Post, March 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/20/russia-ukraine-military-offensive/; Richard Spencer, “Third of Russian invaders destroyed,” Times, May 15, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/third-of-russian-invaders-destroyed-002xrvfsq; Lorenzo Tondo, Luke Harding, and Isobel Koshiw, “Russia takes Donbas town but Ukrainian frontline ‘still holding,’” Guardian, April 19, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/19/ukraine-war-battle-for-donbas-has-begun-russia-launches-offensive
  9. [9]David Benfell, “My 2024 forecast,” Not Housebroken, May 19, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/10/my-2024-forecast/
  10. [10]David Benfell, “Vladimir Putin’s [T/t]rump card,” Not Housebroken, May 21, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/05/21/vladimir-putins-t-trump-card/
  11. [11]David Benfell, “My 2024 forecast,” May 28, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/10/my-2024-forecast/
  12. [12]David Benfell, “Vladimir Putin’s [T/t]rump card,” Not Housebroken, May 21, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/05/21/vladimir-putins-t-trump-card/
  13. [13]Julia Ioffe, “Putin’s D.C. Waiting Game,” Puck News, May 31, 2022, https://puck.news/putins-d-c-waiting-game/
  14. [14]Julia Ioffe, “Putin’s D.C. Waiting Game,” Puck News, May 31, 2022, https://puck.news/putins-d-c-waiting-game/
  15. [15]David Benfell, “My 2024 forecast,” May 28, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/10/my-2024-forecast/
  16. [16]Edward Helmore, “Jake Sullivan: US will act ‘decisively’ if Russia uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” Guardian, September 25, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/sep/25/us-russia-ukraine-war-nuclear-weapons-jake-sullivan
  17. [17]Jake Sullivan, quoted in Edward Helmore, “Jake Sullivan: US will act ‘decisively’ if Russia uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” Guardian, September 25, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/sep/25/us-russia-ukraine-war-nuclear-weapons-jake-sullivan
  18. [18]Ishaan Tharoor, “The right-wing turn against Ukraine may be around the corner,” Washington Post, September 26, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/09/26/ukraine-west-right-wing-fatigue-italy/
  19. [19]David Benfell, “Vladimir Putin’s [T/t]rump card,” Not Housebroken, May 31, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/05/21/vladimir-putins-t-trump-card/
  20. [20]Ishaan Tharoor, “The right-wing turn against Ukraine may be around the corner,” Washington Post, September 26, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/09/26/ukraine-west-right-wing-fatigue-italy/
  21. [21]David Benfell, “More questions than answers as Donald Trump flags come down,” Not Housebroken, September 24, 2022, More questions than answers as Donald Trump flags come down
  22. [22]David Benfell, “Spring in November?” Not Housebroken, September 21, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/09/19/spring-in-november/
  23. [23]Ishaan Tharoor, “The right-wing turn against Ukraine may be around the corner,” Washington Post, September 26, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/09/26/ukraine-west-right-wing-fatigue-italy/
  24. [24]Ishaan Tharoor, “A Republican winter may be coming for Ukraine,” Washington Post, November 7, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/11/07/ukraine-midterms-aid-republican/
  25. [25]David Benfell, “The really, really, really wild wildcards in the 2022 and 2024 elections,” Not Housebroken, August 17, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/08/17/the-really-really-really-wild-wildcards-in-the-2022-and-2024-elections/; David Benfell, “Vladimir Putin’s [T/t]rump card,” Not Housebroken, September 26, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/05/21/vladimir-putins-t-trump-card/; David Benfell, “Spring in November?” Not Housebroken, October 16, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/09/19/spring-in-november/
  26. [26]Ishaan Tharoor, “A Republican winter may be coming for Ukraine,” Washington Post, November 7, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/11/07/ukraine-midterms-aid-republican/
  27. [27]Roane Carey, “Don’t Be a Tankie: How the Left Should Respond to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine,” Intercept, March 1, 2022, https://theintercept.com/2022/03/01/ukraine-russia-leftists-tankie/
  28. [28]Amy B. Wang, Yasmeen Abutaleb, and Marianna Sotomayor, “Liberal Democrats withdraw letter to Biden that urged him to rethink Ukraine strategy,” Washington Post, October 25, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/10/25/democrats-ukraine-letter/
  29. [29]Maggie Haberman, Danny Hakim, and Nick Corasaniti, “How Republicans Are Trying to Use the Green Party to Their Advantage,” New York Times, September 22, 202, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/22/us/politics/green-party-republicans-hawkins.html
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