'Almost treasonous': Romney condemns GOP voices backing Putin

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Sunday that "it just makes me ill" to see people inside of the Republican Party praise Russian President Vladimir Putin as he wages war against Ukraine. Romney even went as far as to describe it as "almost treasonous" to side with Putin.

"A lot of those people are changing their stripes as they are seeing the response of the world and the political response here in the U.S.," Romney said during an interview on CNN's "State of the Union," when asked about pro-Putin sentiment within the Republican Party.

"But how anybody — how anybody in this country, which loves freedom — can side with Vladimir Putin — which is an oppressor, a dictator, he kills people, he imprisons his political opponents, he has been an adversary of America at every chance he's had — it's unthinkable to me. It's almost treasonous," he continued. "And it just makes me ill to see some of these people do that."

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Romney did not name whomever he was talking about, but the Utah senator is a prominent critic of former President Donald Trump, who has praised Putin's Ukraine strategy as "genius" and repeatedly showered the autocratic Russian with praise throughout his presidency.

On Saturday, Trump balanced those comments with words of praise for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whom he called a "brave man" for standing firm amid Moscow's assault. Trump continued to cast Putin as a crafty operator who has outmaneuvered President Biden at every turn. "Putin is playing Biden like a drum, and it's not a pretty thing to watch," Trump said Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Trump's stance stands in sharp contrast with decades of hardline anti-Moscow orthodoxy within the Republican Party, stretching back through the Cold War. Ten years ago, Romney, then the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, even drew mockery from then-President Barack Obama for describing Russia as America's No. 1 geopolitical foe. "They continue to be" that geopolitical adversary, Romney told CNN.

Plenty of Republicans, including the GOP leaders of both the Senate and House, have maintained the party’s traditional hawkishness on Russia. But there have been clear deviations beyond Trump, though perhaps sparked by him.

CNN anchor Dana Bash interviews Sen. Mitt Romney. (Screenshot: Twitter/@CNNSotu)
CNN anchor Dana Bash interviews Sen. Mitt Romney. (Screenshot: Twitter/@CNNSotu)

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll conducted earlier this month found that Trump voters were twice as likely as Biden voters to say the Russia-Ukraine conflict is "none of America’s business." Other polls have shown Republican voters giving a higher favorability rating to Putin than leading Democrats.

J.D. Vance, a Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, recently declared in a podcast interview, "I don't really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another." The official Twitter account of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee tweeted a couple days ago: “Why does Joe Biden care more about Ukraine’s border than the U.S. southern border?”

Top-rated Fox News host Tucker Carlson has also repeatedly downplayed the crisis, describing it as a "border dispute" and asking: "Why would we take Ukraine's side and not Russia's side?" Carlson has recently taken a harder line on Putin.

During the Sunday interview, CNN anchor Dana Bash pressed Romney on whether his "almost treasonous" line would apply to Trump. Romney demurred.

"Standing up for freedom is the right thing to do in America, and anything less than that, in my opinion, is unworthy of American support," he said.