Since he reversed course on his original comments immediately following the Jan. 6 attacks, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has rarely broken ranks with Donald Trump. However, recently McCarthy uncharitably disagreed with the former president’s opinion of Vladimir Putin.
Directly calling Trump’s words into contrast, McCarthy said that he doesn’t think Russian President Vladimir Putin’s moves leading up to the invasion of Ukraine were “savvy” or “genius.”
“I do not think anything savvy or genius about Putin,” McCarthy said at a recent press conference in the Capitol.
“I think Putin is evil. I think he’s a dictator. I think he’s murdering people right now,” McCarthy continued.
McCarthy has criticized Putin before, calling the Russian leader “reckless, evil and dangerous” in a Fox News interview late last month. But his latest remarks came in response to a direct question about whether he agreed with Trump’s assessment of Putin.
Last month, prior to the actual incursion into Ukraine, Trump called Putin’s strategy in Ukraine “very savvy” after the Russian president declared he would recognize two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine as independent just days before his troops began the invasion.
“I went in yesterday, and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent,” Trump said in an interview with the conservative “Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show.”
“So, Putin is now saying, ‘It’s independent,’ a large section of Ukraine. I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper,” Trump said.
“They’re gonna keep peace all right. No, but think of it. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy. … I know him very well. Very, very well.”
However, Trump has since shifted his tone, calling the Russian invasion of Ukraine “a holocaust” last week.
Still, there are other corners of the far-right who have expressed pro-Putin sentiments.
Tucker Carlson, the influential Fox News prime-time host, urged viewers last month to question negative views toward Putin. “It may be worth asking yourself since it is getting pretty serious, what is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much?” Carlson said.
And at the fringe America First Political Action Conference late last month, the organizer, white nationalist Nick Fuentes, asked the crowd to “give a round of applause for Russia,” resulting in some attendees chanting, “Putin! Putin!”
While not giving a direct assessment of Putin one way or the other, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) both participated in that conference.
McCarthy is not the only leading Republican who has broken with Trump’s opinion of the Russian president.
Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that Putin is a “ruthless thug.”
“What President Putin is, is a ruthless thug who’s just invaded another sovereign country and killed thousands of innocent people,” McConnell said. “That’s what President Putin is.”
And as we have reported, at a gathering of Republican National Committee donors last week, former Vice President Mike Pence said, “There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin.”
A reporter asked McCarthy at the Capitol press conference if he agreed with Pence’s stance.
“Yeah,” McCarthy replied.