I’ll spot him “corrupt” here, as that’s been a problem with Ukrainian government for ages. Zelensky himself made it a topic of his comedy when he played Ukraine’s president on television.
But to call him a thug and his government “incredibly evil” at this moment of all moments, when the world is choosing sides between Ukraine and Russia, is obnoxious even for Madison Cawthorn.
And deliberately so. I don’t think these comments were ill-considered on his part, nor do I think this is a case of him failing to “read the room” when something like 80 percent of Republicans favor harsher penalties for Putin and Russia. This is a guy who knows who he is and where his political bread is buttered, and it doesn’t depend on him being popular with that 80 percent. He’s all-in with the nationalist fringe, out beyond the great majority of MAGA fans who love Trump but who also understand the balance of equities between Russia and Ukraine.
For Cawthorn, as with Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, Lauren Boebert, and the rest of the nationalist chuds in the House, the correct political move in almost all situations is to take whichever position will protect your culture-war cred with the nationalist right. Culture war is what gets them out of bed in the morning, culture war is what got them elected, culture war is what keeps their campaign coffers filled. They have nothing interesting or important to say about complex matters like a war in Europe or the optimal mix of diplomacy and sanctions needed to bring it to a rapid end. For the chuds, the calculus is this simple: Putin is an authoritarian icon and global bulwark against creeping progressivism to certain parts of the American nationalist right, therefore excuses should be made for his behavior in Ukraine.
Like, say, by accusing Ukraine’s government of being “woke,” whatever that means to this one-trick-pony culture-warrior imbecile.
“Zelenskyy is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”
— The Republican Accountability Project (@AccountableGOP) March 10, 2022
Essentially, Cawthorn is Matteo Salvini except that Salvini may actually be capable of shame. David Frum had their number a few weeks ago:
Everything they wanted to perceive as decadent and weak has proven strong and brave; everything they wanted to represent as fearsome and powerful has revealed itself as brutal and stupid. https://t.co/IECV0TjR9Z
— David Frum (@davidfrum) February 28, 2022
Putin’s colossal blunder in Ukraine has unified NATO, destroyed his own economy, and exposed the decidedly un-woke Russian military as vastly less fearsome than the world had imagined. And American nationalists will never forgive Zelensky for it.
This meme has been going around lately but I think it applies more to Cawthorn than to its intended target, Josh Hawley:
— Sam🌊🎵#Boosted (@BassCity246) March 7, 2022
Hawley disgraced himself on January 6 but he’s been pro-Ukraine and pro-NATO since the start of this, whether because he retains a keener moral sense than Cawthorn or because, as a statewide officer, he needs to care more about which way the wind is blowing among Republican voters. It’s Cawthorn who’s been consistent in supporting an authoritarian’s right to hold power in a country where he wasn’t elected.
Interestingly, it wasn’t a Democrat who flagged his comments in the clip above. It was Karl Rove, contrasting Cawthorn’s opinion about the war in an op-ed today with that of the great bulk of the party. Rove must have seen the potential for Dems to exploit Cawthorn’s remarks and wanted to get ahead of it by branding them an extreme outlier. I wonder if anyone in the House leadership pulled Cawthorn aside this morning and told him to clean it up because now he’s tweeting this:
The actions of Putin and Russia are disgusting.
But leaders, including Zelensky, should NOT push misinformation on America.
I am praying for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.
Pray also we are not drawn into conflict based on foreign leaders pushing misinformation.
— Rep. Madison Cawthorn (@RepCawthorn) March 10, 2022
That’s sweet, but one can oppose American involvement in the war — I do — while not overtly demonizing the victim of aggression. “Cawthorn, who posts frequently about freedom and patriotism, is going after the democratic leader of Ukraine as he’s fighting for his country against a war by the authoritarian Putin,” Politico remarked of his comments in the clip. Also, no one exploits disinformation to achieve its war aims like Russia does. If Cawthorn’s worried about America being sucked into a war by lies, why isn’t he worried about Russia falsely accusing the U.S. of running bioweapons labs in Ukraine?
There’s one other element here, the elephant in the room. Zelensky happens to be at the heart of Trump’s first impeachment, the man whom Trump asked for a “favor” during their conversation about releasing U.S. military aid to Ukraine. For someone as closely allied with Trump and the fringiest MAGAs as Cawthorn is, it may be impossible not to hold a grudge against the Ukrainian. It’s a dark irony to hear him grumbling about Zelensky being corrupt when the most famous incident of corruption with which Zelensky is associated was one perpetrated by Cawthorn’s own political hero, with Ukraine the victim.
By the way, only 17 members of the House voted no on the bill to ban Russian oil imports that came to the floor yesterday. Two were hard-left Democrats, Ilhan Omar and Cori Bush. The other 15 were a who’s who of the chud caucus. Including, of course, Madison Cawthorn.
Here’s Lindsey Graham today trying to clean up Cawthorn’s mess.
Lindsey Graham says Madison Cawthorn is an outlier “in the largest sense possible on our side” and says “there are some on the left that are outliers” pic.twitter.com/JYXbZ7GArd
— Acyn (@Acyn) March 10, 2022