Then-President Donald Trump with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017.

Then-President Donald Trump with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017. Credit: S/KREML/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock/S/KREML/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

On the eve of Rep. Lee Zeldin’s endorsement for governor by the Republican State Committee, the candidate stood outside the Killenworth Estate in Glen Cove alongside Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman.

Their mutual mission: Easy publicity.

Both joined the new bipartisan chorus supporting Ukraine, which is under unprovoked, murderous attack from neighboring Russia.

The manse was selected as a backdrop because it has elite Russians coming in and out of it. The old Soviet Union bought it in 1951 as a retreat for its UN delegation. Photo-ops aside, nothing there is likely to change.

This kind of zero-sum media stunt rings typical, but the wider messaging goal of the national Republican Party right now is not. The party leadership is scrambling all over to deodorize the former Republican White House’s four years of blatantly coddling Russian President Vladimir Putin.

For years, this foreign dictator’s power antics seemed fine with much of the GOP as long as they contained cynical divide-and-conquer messaging aimed at Democrats. But now it’s bombs aimed at the civilians of Kyiv and elsewhere.

In a crisis like this, the recent past is quickly forgotten.

Former President Donald Trump was once asked whether Putin was not a killer. "There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?" he replied.

In 2018, Trump was asked whether the U.S. might recognize Putin’s earlier annexation of Crimea, in eastern Ukraine, after hostile actions by Russia four years earlier.

"We’re going to have to see," he said.

Russia’s 2016 hacks of U.S. computers? Maybe it was the work of a "400 pound" person on a bed or someone living in New Jersey, he said.

In the GOP Congress, opposition to Trump’s attitude of appeasement came mainly in squeaks and murmurs.

Sixteen months after losing reelection, Trump still did what he could to exalt Putin and demean his detractors. "He’s taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions," Trump said 10 days ago, "taking over a country — really a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people — and just walking right in."

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Trump loyalist, headlined a fundraising dinner at the Milleridge Inn in Jericho Monday night and joined in the new GOP equivocation. "I don’t think Putin is a dummy," she said — but praised businesses in her state refusing to sell Russian products.

Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani dropped into the convention hall on Tuesday for his son Andrew’s speech. It’s way too late for the suspended lawyer to sound righteous on Ukraine, where Trump sent him to dig up dirt on rival Joe Biden with help from ousted politicos peddling Kremlin-pushed conspiracy theories.

Another New York Republican, who was not on hand in Garden City, is ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Before his conviction and subsequent pardon by Trump, Manafort was a well-paid consultant to Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Putin president of Ukraine, later forced out in a populist uprising.

In 2016, Manafort’s team watered down the party platform supporting Ukraine defense.

Rhetorically, this is a very unwieldy ship for the GOP to turn around. Ex-Gov. George Pataki — never a true Trump fan but always a loyal Republican — recited this party talking point in Garden City: "We have a weak president who has failed to defend our allies at times of desperate need."

Just to be clear: He meant Biden.

Columnist Dan Janison’s opinions are his own.

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