Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017 (AFP).

Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine hasn't gone well for him so far, and it has created new problems for his longtime admirer Donald Trump.

The former U.S. president could always count on his base to remain loyal, but his strongest supporters have not gone along with his calling Putin's aggression an act of "genius," argued USA Today columnist Austin Sarat.

"As the former president saw it, there was nothing to condemn about the unfolding act of aggression in Europe, but much to admire," Sarat wrote. "There was, however, a response to Trump’s full-throated embrace of Russia’s authoritarian leader. That response signals a change in attitudes toward Russia even among Trump’s base, and it foreshadows a recalibration of the conversation about democracy and authoritarianism in the United States and abroad. Surprisingly, many of Trump’s usual cronies did not join his praise of Putin."

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy condemned the invasion as "reckless and evil," and even Fox News host Tucker Carlson changed his tune and called the war a "tragedy."

READ: Trump’s ‘startled’ advisers are begging him to ‘keep his mouth shut’ about Putin: report

"Where Carlson goes Trump cannot be far behind," Sarat wrote. "So it was not surprising that in his Saturday speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Trump trimmed his sails a bit. He still insisted that Putin was 'smart' while trying to pin the blame for what the Russian leader did on the Biden administration."

Polls show that a large and bipartisan majority of Americans favor punishing sanctions against Russia, and more than three quarters of both Democrats and Republicans view the country negatively -- and 40 percent view Russians as an "enemy."

"Putin’s invasion is a wake-up call for Americans who ... have become complacent about democracy," Sarat wrote, "and it is a stark warning about what the world would look like if the kind of 'smart,''savvy' autocrats Trump admires were to be in charge and able to do whatever they want.""

READ: Russian media tells Trump they're 'ready to elect him again' amid spat with Biden

"All told, what Putin has done in Ukraine puts Trump in the kind of awkward political position that would require a 'genius' to successfully navigate," he added.

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