The real reason why the GOP loves Putin
Kremlin photos of Putin and Trump

On the surface, it seems like Republicans can't decide how they feel about Russian President Vladimir Putin invading the sovereign country of Ukraine. On one hand, the more old guard GOP leadership is formally denouncing Putin and trying to score their political points against Joe Biden by claiming that this is evidence that the U.S. president is "weak." But both their de facto leader, Donald Trump, and their de facto party agenda-setter, Tucker Carlson, have been out there making their love and support of Putin known. As with every internal conflict in the GOP, the smart bet is the Trumpian wing will win over the traditional conservatives, even though it once again means that Republicans will be siding against America and democracy in favor of the forces of authoritarianism.

It's tempting to write this off, as so many in the mainstream media like to do, as evidence that the Republican party is "afraid" of Trump as if they were setting aside good intentions out of fear of crossing the orange mob boss who runs their party. The darker truth, however, is that this is part of a larger turn in the GOP towards anti-democratic, even fascist politics. As journalist Stephen Marche told Salon's Chauncey DeVega, "a huge number of Americans want such a dictatorship," and it's important to ask why, even though the answers don't "feel good."

RELATED: Putin leaves Republicans splintered and confused

One important document that points to the answer was released this week by Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott, a pamphlet titled, "An 11 Point Plan To Rescue America." Needless to say, the title is misleading, as this pamphlet is very much about destroying America — by dismantling basic freedoms and democracy itself — under the guise of "saving" it.

Despite the heavy declarations of patriotism, the document presents a depressing and dystopian vision of America that is at total odds with the values of freedom, equality, and democracy that are supposed to define this country. Through rhetoric heavy on euphemism and doublespeak, Scott's plans are not hard to suss out: Replacing fact-based education with nationalistic propaganda, destroying voting rights, ending all efforts to ameliorate racial inequalities, and forcing rigid and sexist gender roles on all Americans. Scott justifies the latter by declaring it's "God's design for humanity," which of course, violates the very first amendment to the constitution that protects freedom of religion.

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It's not just, as Paul Waldman of the Washington Post wrote this weekend, that Republicans want "a return to the 1950s, a dramatic rollback of social progress to a supposedly simpler time, with traditional hierarchies restored." As Ed Kilgore wrote in New York, this document is "batshit crazy," full of ideas like ending Medicare and Social Security, as well as dismantling federal agencies like the Department of Education and the IRS. As Aaron Rupar noted in his newsletter, "It's not that Republicans don't stand for anything. It's that they stand for things that are unpopular and divisive." For instance, Scott's plan to replace real education with book bannings and nationalistic propaganda? Polling shows a whopping 83% of Americans oppose the idea.

Scott ostensibly opposes Putin and his war on Ukraine. This document, however, shows why that stance is increasingly incoherent for Republicans — and therefore opposed by their true leaders, i.e. Fox News hosts and Trump. Like Putin, American Republicans support a far-right social agenda that simply cannot withstand democratic debate and fair election systems. That's why Republicans are rallying behind Trump and his Big Lie. Democracy itself is their enemy, and they are siding with a transnational anti-democratic movement against the U.S. and its values.

RELATED: Are Republicans afraid of Trump? Hell, no — he's destroying democracy and they love it

The Trumpian wing of the party often doesn't even really bother to hide their goals. On a recent episode of his popular podcast "War Room," former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, as his wont, got vivid and violent with his fantasies of imposing one-party rule on the U.S.

Steve Bannon today: "We have a chance, once in our lifetime, to destroy the Democratic Party as an institution. We cannot let this slip from our grasp .. That is everyone's maniacal focus. We're in a war." pic.twitter.com/0A2vmrew5V
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) February 23, 2022

This kind of rhetoric has become so normal on the right that it's easy to get inured to it, but it's important to remember what exactly Bannon is saying here. The Democratic Party represents a strong majority of Americans, a fact which is already disturbingly hidden by election systems that favor right-wing minorities. Since 1992, the Democrat won the popular vote in every presidential election but one. Bannon's "war" is very plainly about destroying the ability of the majority of voters to express their preferences in elections.

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A slightly slicker but similarly disturbing message is evident in a recent campaign ad by Peter Thiel-backed GOP candidate for Arizona's Senate seat, Blake Masters.

America isn't just an idea. We're a country. We're a people, with a history, and a culture. pic.twitter.com/5HD077MMf4
— Blake Masters (@bgmasters) February 22, 2022

Don't be fooled by the faux-innocuous assertions of cultural history or the glib tokenism of mentioning Chuck Berry. By declaring that America is a "people" and not an "idea," Masters gestures towards this white nationalistic, anti-democratic argument. This is a strike against the very foundational premise of the country, which is that this a constitutional democracy defined by its laws and ideals, one that is flexible and can evolve alongside its population. Instead, he clearly wishes to replace that vision with a white nationalist one, where "America" is about "its people," a group that will inevitably be defined along exclusionary lines of race and ethnicity.

RELATED: Peter Thiel bets on the far right: Tech tycoon spending millions to bankroll "Trump wing" of GOP

As Roy Edroso, a writer focused on chronicling the right, noted on Twitter Wednesday, a focal point for the softly pro-Putin voices in the GOP is that "Russia is right because it persecutes gay and trans people, and America wrong because it doesn't."

It is a particularly salient example of why Republicans are growing increasingly anti-democratic, because their vicious bigotries on this front simply cannot withstand the rigors of the ballot box. We see this in Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued a vile executive order instructing CPS to strip parental rights off anyone who supports their trans child's gender identity. The bill was proposed in the Texas legislature, but it's so gruesome that it couldn't pass, despite firm Republican control of the state. So Abbott is simply going around the democratic system in a bid to destroy families in the name of his rigid gender ideology.

Like Putin, Republicans know that their views cannot win in a free, fair democratic debate. The tension between claiming to be for democracy in Ukraine while opposing democracy in the U.S. is causing way too much cognitive dissonance on the right. It's why Trump is going with a simpler message of blatantly rooting for Putin. Trumpism has always been part of this transnational war on democracy. Bannon in particular loves to trumpet this fact. With this invasion of Ukraine, this alliance between Trumpists at home and authoritarians worldwide is only going to strengthen — and strengthen Trump's hold on the Republican Party.