Trump Straddles the Ukraine Fence

Speaking in the primetime slot Saturday night at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, former President Donald Trump had a few things to say about Vladimir Putin’s territorial war against Ukraine. One, the “Russian attack on Ukraine is appalling. It’s an outrage and an atrocity that should never have been allowed to occur.” Two, both the Ukrainian people and their president, Volodymyr Zelensky, are “brave” and deserve our prayers. And three, “As everyone understands, this horrific event would not have happened if there wasn’t a rigged election and I was president.”

Throughout his speech, Trump indulged in the simple pleasures afforded to those who aren’t in power during a crisis, confidently asserting throughout that it was only due to President Joe Biden’s weakness on the world stage that Putin felt comfortable invading Ukraine at all. For much of the speech, indeed, Trump seemed to be doing his best impression of a neoconservative hawk, scoffing at the notion that economic pressure alone could rein Putin in:

The NATO nations, and indeed the world, as [Putin] looks over what’s happening strategically with no repercussions or threats whatsoever—they’re not so smart. They’re looking the opposite of smart. “If you take over Ukraine, we’re going to sanction you,” they say. Sanction? Well, that’s a pretty weak statement. Putin is saying, “Oh, they’re going to sanction me? They sanctioned me for the last 25 years! You mean I can take over a whole country and they’re going to sanction me? You mean they’re not going to blow us to pieces—at least psychologically?” … And they’ve so far allowed him to get away with this travesty and assault on humanity.

Trump interwove much of his commentary on Ukraine with other old grievances.There was, of course, much rehearsing of the false claim that his defeat at Biden’s hands in 2020 was due to foul play. In praising Zelensky, Trump didn’t dwell on the Ukrainian president’s remarkable courage in staying and fighting alongside his people at great personal risk, rejecting a U.S. offer of evacuation. Instead, Trump wanted to discuss how Zelensky helped him score a point on Rep. Adam Schiff during his first impeachment, when he was accused of withholding aid to Ukraine until the country announced a criminal investigation into Joe Biden:

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