by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
John Daniel Davidson of the Federalist website offers conservatives advice about how to react to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.
The protests and police crackdown are a reminder of what the Putin regime really is, and why it’s dangerous for conservatives to delude themselves into thinking Putin is anything more than a drearily familiar twentieth-century-style autocrat and gangster. But that’s exactly what a growing number of conservatives are doing. It’s no secret the alt-right lionizes Putin as a defender of traditional values and ethnic nationalism. Nor is it a secret that President Trump finds much to admire in the Russian leader.
But it’s not just Trump or the alt-right. For a growing number of Christians concerned about the erosion of traditional values and issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, Putin’s cultural conservatism has a certain appeal as a bulwark against the moral relativism of progressivism. Christian leaders like Franklin Graham have praised Putin for “protecting traditional Christianity,” while Pat Buchanan has said Putin is America’s ally against ISIS.
This benign view of Putin has begun to creep into mainstream conservatism, not just because of Russia’s supposed defense of traditional marriage and family values, but because of Putin’s seeming commitment to national sovereignty—an issue that resonates with Republican voters. Back in December, a poll conducted by the Economist and YouGov found 37 percent of Republicans held a favorable view of Putin, up from 24 percent in September 2016 and just 10 percent in July 2014. …
… [D]o ordinary Russians think that propping up the Assad regime in Syria, or preventing Ukraine from joining NATO, or meddling in other countries’ elections, are core national interests? Probably not, although we’ll never know because Putin’s Russia, like any run-of-the-mill autocratic regime, isn’t all that interested in what ordinary people think.
That gets to the heart of the problem. Caldwell says Putin has become “a symbol of national sovereignty in its battle with globalism.” But national sovereignty doesn’t mean much if the government doesn’t derive its powers from the consent of the governed. Conservatives, who are supposed to care about things like free speech and civil rights, shouldn’t need the spectacle of mass protests and police brutality to remind them that the Russian people are not sovereign in Putin’s empire.