Russian President Vladimir Putin's close ties with Donald Trump made fools...

Russian President Vladimir Putin's close ties with Donald Trump made fools of loyal Republicans. Credit: AP/Yuri Kochetkov

"Toto, we’re home — home! And this is my room — and you’re all here — and I’m not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all! And … Oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home!"

It’s not quite like that for old Reagan conservatives flummoxed by the American right’s recent flirtation with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, but that homecoming relief is at least somewhere over the rainbow now.

With the exception of some sensationalist TV pundits, a handful of holdouts in Congress, and J.D. Vance — the beloved "Hillbilly Elegy" author turned ornery Senate candidate from Ohio — the Russian invasion of Ukraine has finally reawakened the GOP to cold, hard moral and geopolitical reality. Tyrants, we now recall, act tyrannically, and tyranny is what we’re against.

It’s worth noting, though — indeed it’s critical to note — what deflected so many GOPers into such a weird and unpredictable trajectory over the past seven or so years, and to identify who they are.

The provisional Putin defenders can be broken into three categories, as I see it: loyal party apologists, lazy cable TV mimics, and those willing to abandon democracy to preserve tradition. Those in the first two groups are salvageable. We should let the others go.

The loyal party apologists I understand best. I was long among them. These are the ones who will defend Republican candidates against media criticism and Democratic Party attacks at all cost. It’s an admirable trait to some extent — a party is like a family when you’re ensconced in it, and one has to protect family — but President Donald Trump abused the inclination, forcing them to defend his embrace of Russian help in the 2016 election or to publicly discount it. His bizarre and suspicious love affair with Putin took their well-intentioned party fealty and made fools of them. Not nice, as he’d say. Loyalty is supposed to go both ways.

The lazy cable TV mimics are, well, lazy cable TV mimics. There’s not much more to be said about them. They listen to pundits on TV and radio and spit back the talking points to anyone who’ll listen. We all do it sometimes, whether we care to admit it or not.

Then there are the truly concerning ones — the populist "Nat-cons" who saw in Putin a champion of Christendom, an illiberal traditionalist who refused to put up with corrosive, modern-day secular democracy. I used to refer to them as "Bannonites," but Steve Bannon doesn’t seem to matter much anymore. Fox News’s Tucker Carlson may fall into this camp.

This group has really thought out its pro-Russia position. It actively decided that Western liberal democracy is doomed to corruption and moral decay and began admiring autocratic Russian leadership. American and European immigration trends almost certainly helped drive this thinking. The unbridled influx of immigrants of different cultures and religions from the Southern Hemisphere into the Northern Hemisphere convinced them that society as they know it is doomed by liberal permissiveness. Wokeism almost certainly was a factor, too.

One can’t dismiss their concerns because they’re genuine and understandable; they fear European Union weakness and Judeo-Christain dilution more than Putin’s strength. But the loss of faith in democracy itself is startling. They’ve forgotten Winston Churchill’s adage that "democracy is the worst form of government — except for all those other forms that have been tried."

Winning at the ballot box is the way to shape the future. It’s hard, hard work, but there are no shortcuts on the yellow brick road.

Opinions expressed by William F. B. O’Reilly, a consultant to Republicans, are his own.

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