Conservative heavyweights lambast ‘Putin apologist’ Madison Cawthorn’s anti-Ukraine remarks

Conservative heavyweights lambast ‘Putin apologist’ Madison Cawthorn’s anti-Ukraine remarks
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When far-right Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina says something appalling — which happens a lot — MAGA Republicans typically rush to his defense. But the congressman has his share of detractors on the right, and well-known conservatives like GOP strategist Karl Rove, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and The Bulwark’s Bill Kristol are calling him out for a ridiculous attack on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

All over the world, Zelensky is being hailed as a profile in courage for vowing to keep resisting Russian troops, which invaded Ukraine on February 24. Since then, thousands of people have been killed in Ukraine — and more than 2 million Ukrainians have fled the country. President Joe Biden and his European NATO allies have expressed their solidarity with Zelensky, imposing tough economic sanctions against Russia.

But Cawthorn, during a recent MAGA gathering, told supporters, “Remember that Zelensky is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”

Rove, however, is expressing a very different view of Zelensky. In an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal on March 9, the veteran GOP strategist praised Zelensky’s “awe-inspiring courage” and wrote, “Republican members of Congress, candidates and commentators echoing Mr. Trump’s isolationism and Kremlin apologetics are out of sync with GOP voters. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R., N.C.) didn’t reflect Republican opinion when he called Mr. Zelensky ‘a thug’ and Ukraine’s government ‘incredibly evil’ last Saturday at a town hall in Asheville, NC. Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance was way out of touch with GOP voters when he declared, in an interview, ‘I gotta be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.’ He later backtracked, perhaps having realized he’d offended Ohio’s large Ukrainian-American community as well as plenty of Reaganite Republicans.”

In a March 11 column for The Bulwark, Never Trump conservative Charlie Sykes also slams Cawthorn and cites examples of others on the right who have been telling the congressman off.

“Republicans are anxious — very anxious indeed — to tell us that Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn doesn’t speak for his fellow Republicans,” Sykes observes. “Sen. Lindsey Graham rushed to the microphone to assure us that Cawthorn is an outlier ‘in the largest sense possible on our side.’”

Sykes observes that his Bulwark colleague Kristol said of Cawthorn, “In the confederacy of Trumpist lowlifes, he’s the lowest” — and Cheney described him as “another member of the Putin wing of the GOP.” But the Never Trumper stresses that Cawthorn is hardly alone when it comes to being a MAGA Republican who is a useful idiot for Putin and the Kremlin.


“Madison Cawthorn is not a complete outlier here,” Sykes emphasizes. “Liz Cheney calls him a member of the Putin wing of the GOP, but it is important to remember that the leader of that wing is Donald J. Trump, the once and perhaps future president.”

Sykes continues, “This is also important to remember: Until about five minutes ago, Cawthorn’s remarks were more or less basic talking points among the MAGA right — and not just talking points, but holy script. His attitude is deeply embedded in the right’s DNA. So, it’s easy to imagine Cawthorn today, looking around at his GOP critics and asking: Dude, what do you mean ‘outlier?’ I’m just saying what we’ve all been saying for years now! He’d have a point.”

Sykes adds that anti-Ukraine talking points have been plentiful in MAGA World.

“For years, the right-wing media — led by Donald Trump himself — has been obsessed with the alleged vileness of Ukraine, first in the wake of the 2016 election, and then with the whole Hunter-Biden-Burisma-I-would-like-you-to-do-us-a-favor-thing,” Sykes explains. “Lest we forget, during Russiagate, Rudy Giuliani and Sean Hannity peddled insane conspiracy theories that tried to blame Ukraine for the election interference committed by Russia.”

Similarly, in Mother Jones, journalist Inae Oh writes, “While we love to see Rove as unlikely GOP snitch, his belief that Cawthorn is out of step with the rest of the party relies heavily on political amnesia. Sure, Donald Trump may have been outspoken in his admiration for Putin. But for years, Republicans have adopted similar pro-Kremlin views. Perhaps most consequentially, Republican leaders have been cheerleaders for blatantly undemocratic measures, such as book bans and the curtailment of voting rights, that mirror Putin’s own policies. But why bother with those minor details, right Karl?”

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