Ross K. Baker

Sen. Joseph McCarthy must be turning over his grave. The long-dead nemesis of communists in government of the 1950s boldly but often recklessly ferreted out Soviet sympathizers in official circles in America. He would be appalled at the readiness — indeed the enthusiasm — of congressional Republicans to swallow whole the fake narrative concocted by Russian intelligence that Ukraine tampered with the 2016 election.

Hardly less appalled would be Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan. His opposition to President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program and plan to pack the Supreme Court with additional justices to offset the court’s conservatives gave him impeccable conservative credentials. But increasingly alarmed by the dangerously aggressive intentions of Soviet Russia, Vandenberg scrapped his past isolationism and supported the creation of NATO in 1949.

If there was one thing Republicans could always be counted on back in those days, it was a visceral wariness of Soviet Russia. It was congressional Republicans who spotted the booby traps in the nuclear freeze proposal. And it was Ronald Reagan who had migrated politically from Democratic booster to the Republican president credited with bringing down the Soviet Union.

Protecting Trump at the cost of truth

It was Reagan who moved to set up a space-based missile defense that the impoverished Soviet Union could not match. And it was Reagan who stood in Berlin and called upon Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” 

Reagan would cringe if he had heard some Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee last month embrace the disinformation promoted by the heirs of Josef Stalin. The narrative about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election that Republicans now rally around carries with it the stench of the dungeons at KGB prison and the dreariness of the gulags.

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In their eagerness or perhaps desperation to protect President Donald Trump from what is emerging as a plausible case for impeachment, based upon his efforts to use the tools of our government to intimidate Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, House and Senate Republicans are embracing the disinformation of the Russian secret police and one of its former minions, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018.

I have studied Congress for 40 years and come to know members of both parties in both chambers. If I had been told when I began that one day supposedly level-headed GOP conservatives would endorse a fictional interpretation concocted by an ex-communist apparatchik who is now the leader of Russia, I would not have wasted my time defending Republicans to my liberal colleagues. As it turns out, they were more correct than I was about the Republicans’ capacity for embracing untruth and their docile conformity to the wishes of a deceitful president.

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It should also be noted that a number of congressional Republicans have accepted only reluctantly the conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Their reluctance can be easily explained by the fact that the president, the leader of their party, accepts it not at all. Add to this the fact that they are terrified of taking issue with Trump and being toppled by one of his tweets, and you have the explanation for this whole melancholy period of our history.

Trust once captive Ukraine, not Russia

Trump has twisted the Republican Party into a grotesque and deformed shape that would make it unrecognizable to its partisan counterparts of past years. The party’s signature issues such as a commitment to balanced federal budgets now seem as antiquated as its once solid commitment to the rule of law.

The skepticism coming from the White House about Ukraine’s value as an ally of this country bears a striking similarity to the casual way the president deserted our Kurdish allies on the Syrian battlefield and left them at the mercy of the Turks. Disloyalty to one’s allies is a trait unbecoming to this nation.

Republicans in the past may have been wrong about certain things, but they never wavered in their commitment to the ultimate liberation of what they referred to as the “Captive Nations.” One of those captive nations, now free, should be accorded more credibility than its former captors.

Ross K. Baker is a distinguished professor of political science at Rutgers University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @Rosbake1

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