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Some Republicans are Starting to Poke the Bear


For all its faults, the Opinion page of The Washington Post is not a venue for the more extreme rightwing pundits.

Even so, WaPo has, over the years, lent plenty of dubious respectability to the likes of Marc A. Thiessen and Hugh Hewitt, giving them their own regular columns, which serve to showcase the darker, fact-free side of the both-sides narrative.

Thiessen, in particular, is among the more articulate of the Trump crowd, which is not a high bar. He was once a speechwriter for George W. Bush, so you know he speaks fluent bullshit. He used to hang with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Bolton and the rest of the Neocons — guys in ties who never met a war they didn’t like — so he has a soft spot for Ukraine, and a loathing for Russia that goes back to the womb.

In recent times, his columns have gone full-on MAGA, which means he’s generally unreadable except, perhaps, as a future historical artifact. Normally I can’t get past his first paragraph without needing a shower. 

But when I saw this headline from him a few weeks ago, I knew I had to read the whole thing:

 I want to support Trump. He keeps making that harder for me.

Actually, I read it several times. Keep in mind, this is maybe the Trumpiest pundit to ever gain a foothold in the mainstream media — Ronna McDaniel’s brief career notwithstanding — and it turns out Ukraine is a bridge too far, even for him.

So when Trump promised Viktor Orban that he “will not give a penny” to help Ukraine, Thiessen channeled his inner Susan Collins — he was “deeply concerned” that, “If true, that’s not the Trump I want to vote for.”

Of course, the article is breathtakingly dishonest on multiple levels. A devious but careful writer, Thiessen wears his rightwing credentials on his sleeve, and his past interviews with Trump are clearly the highlights of his career. Consider this gaslighting gem:

I want to vote for the Trump who proudly told me in that interview, “Nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have.”

While Thiessen doesn’t exactly lie — WaPo draws the line at outright fabrication — he doesn’t hesitate to quote Trump, which is lying by other means.

But reading between the lines, what he’s saying in this article is that he knows Trump is in Putin’s pocket, and that this is painful for Thiessen personally. Whenever he puts ‘Trump’ and ‘Russia’ in the same sentence, he’s forced to revisit, and try to rewrite, the history of Donald and Rudy’s excellent adventure in Ukraine — the very adventure that led to Trump’s first impeachment.

This isn't easy for Thiessen, and he wants nothing more than to reconcile his crush on Trump with his understanding — unstated but clear — that Trump is a global catastrophe in waiting.

Still, even in an article that calls out — however tepidly — Trump’s statements on Ukraine, Thiessen saves his real venom for Democrats. As perhaps befits an unreconstructed Neocon, his favorite verb is ‘weaponize.’ The Democrats, he claims, have “shamefully weaponized our legal system against Trump.” The Biden administration, he declares, has “weaponized the FBI to intimidate parents who show up at school board meetings.” He had to stretch for that one.

But in the end, he protests too much. All this weaponization, all this disingenuous disgust — with Biden, with Democrats, with the “liberal media” that pays him — is really just his way of burying the lede.

Because the real news here is that he can no longer stomach the betrayal of Ukraine, the kowtowing to Putin, or the dangerous isolationism Trump now demands from his stooges in Congress. But he obscures this revulsion in a dense fog of anti-Democratic vitriol, as if to soften the blow he knows is coming.

In other words, Marc Thiessen is poking the bear. And he knows it.

He knows that when Trump says “Ukraine bad, Russia good,” this is not open for discussion. He knows that this is MAGA dogma, and that apostasy will not be tolerated. He knows full well that the headline alone could bring him death threats.

Thiessen is one of a small but growing number of Republican insiders who have, up to now, reluctantly indulged both Trump’s antics and the whole GOP clown caucus in the House. But lately, they appear to be balking at the imminent danger this poses to Ukraine. I say “appear” because their opinions fluctuate with Trump’s moods. But on this one issue, they seem to be acknowledging the occasional value of objective reality.

Because they understand exactly what the threat of Russian aggression portends, and they’ve reached, perhaps, a point where buffoonery loses its charm. There are now enough Republican votes in both the Senate and the House to free up Ukraine aid tomorrow. Only Trump’s pet Speaker, Mike Johnson — whose refusal to cross Trump and bring the matter to a floor vote — stands in the way.

So now we see some of the old Neocons pushing back against Johnson — which is to say, against Trump. And while their protests are largely toothless, they are getting louder. Karl Rove and Reince Preibus have recently left their crypts in the Fox bubble long enough to publicly excoriate the hold-up of Ukraine aid by House Republicans.

So Thiessen is not alone out on this limb. There’s a growing rift on the right, and it coincides with a growing sense of Trump’s many and varied vulnerabilities.

Evidently, Ukraine is the sweet spot for reaching one side of this rift. Which makes this one of those rare moments when their goals are actually aligned with ours.

Democrats have been gifted with a bumper crop of potent messages for this election cycle. It’s truly an embarrassment of riches, and I don’t presume to prioritize them. But there is surely a case to be made for putting Ukraine near the front. As always, Trump’s own words — about Ukraine, about Russia, about Putin — make for the best ads Democrats can run.

The number of Republican voters nauseated by Trump is large and getting larger. These people may never vote for Biden, but wouldn’t it be great if we could convince them to just stay home? Think of all the down-ballot Republicans they’d also not be voting for.

So when a nut like Thiessen risks his MAGA cred to stand up for Ukraine, we have to take notice. We have to consider that Ukraine might just be a difference-maker.

It might just change the thinking of voters who don’t do a lot of thinking.




  1. I still think it is possible that Ukraine is all about getting Trump into the White House. Putin doesn't really NEDED Ukraine, but if he gets Trump into the White House Trump, instead of preventing, will cause WWIII. Trump must be brought down HARD!


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