The first step is to understand that Russia is no longer the "Evil Empire" in Ronald Reagan's sense. Russia is no longer a communist state which provides an alternative to capitalism. That war is over. There are still Russian hawks in Congress like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who oppose many of Russia's foreign policies, and there are William Buckley style conservatives who prefer a decentralized and less intrusive government, but some conservatives admire Putin's cultural values and his leadership style. There are more of these kinds of conservatives that one might imagine. They tend to compare Trump's leadership style favorably to Putin's and they hope that Trump can be their Putin. Trump's recent speech in Poland struck a cord that sounds a lot like a recent statement by a prominent conservative.
“In the culture war for mankind’s future, is he one of us?” Mr. Buchanan wrote, quickly answering his own question. “He is seeking to redefine the ‘Us vs. Them’ world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent West.”
“This is consistent with a nationalist, populist, authoritarian point of view,” said William Kristol, the editor at large of the conservative Weekly Standard. That view, he added, “would ridicule the promotion of human rights and democracy as globalism, or criticize occasionally deferring to allies when you want to keep them on board as weak, or mock worrying about public opinion in allied nations as naïve.”
There is also a similarity in the cultural values espoused by Trump and Putin:
Both are go-it-alone nationalists who value the projection of strength and decisiveness over thoughtful deliberation. Both have dedicated themselves to defending Christians and their faith — Mr. Trump through his “religious freedom” initiatives and Mr. Putin through his strengthening of ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. Both have condemned Christian persecution in the Middle East. Both have taken a more forgiving view of human rights abuses.Its time to expand our views on Trump's political appeal. Populism is not really his strong suit. He is very popular with many conservatives who have a lot of influence in the Republican Party.
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