Trump's framing of Russia-Ukraine crisis gets MSNBC, Washington Post speculating how he would have handled it

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President Biden has held office for more than 13 months, but former President Trump still occupies a significant space in media coverage of the unfolding Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Analysis of what he would or wouldn’t have done as president, and explanations of why Russia didn’t invade Ukraine while the man accused for years of collusion with the Kremlin held office, have been prevalent in recent days. Trump also drew fierce criticism this week for praising “savvy” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “genius” declaration that two east Ukrainian territories controlled by pro-Russian separatists were “independent,” while also claiming Putin wouldn’t have done it if he was still in office.

Making it about Trump

Even before Trump’s pronouncements on Putin drove a news cycle, some journalists strained to make Biden’s handling of the situation about Trump. Criticized for being passive and enabling Russia with his energy policies, Biden has imposed sanctions and moved U.S. troops to Poland in response to Russian troops entering Ukraine. Europe, and the world, are on high alert.

The Russia-Ukraine crisis has President Biden imposing sanctions intended to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
(Getty Images/Fox News photo illustration)

Liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, in a piece headlined, “With Biden standing firm, Putin must wonder: Where’s Trump when I need him?”, argued Putin had miscalculated by not invading when Trump was in office.

“If Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to gobble up another chunk of Ukraine at little or no cost to his own interests, he should have done it while Donald Trump was still president,” Robinson wrote.  

“If Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to gobble up another chunk of Ukraine at little or no cost to his own interests, he should have done it while Donald Trump was still president.” 

Eugene Robinson, columnist, Washington Post. (Getty Images)

Senior writer at Real Clear Investigations Mark Hemingway responded that Putin had also invaded Ukraine in 2014, when Biden was vice president: “I don’t think Biden is a deterrent.”

“Why Putin didn’t invade Ukraine during the last U.S. administration,” “The Rachel Maddow Show” producer Steve Benen wrote for MSNBC, theorizing that Trump’s actions in office were enough to advance Putin’s anti-West goals. The piece charged Trump had hurt the European Union by expressing “disdain” for it, undermined NATO, and weakened the U.S. political system.

“Why didn’t the Russian leader deploy troops into Ukraine during Trump’s term? Perhaps because Putin was so pleased with an American president who pursued goals in line with Moscow’s agenda,” Benen wrote. “Had Putin launched an invasion, it risked upsetting the course he was already delighted to see. Why would the Russian leader get in the way of the progress Trump was already delivering?”

The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum told MSNBC the invasion was delayed because Trump was “weakening Ukraine.”

“If you remember, the argument over Trump’s first impeachment was about Trump refusing to give military aid to Ukraine because he imagined he could get some dirt on Joe Biden from the Ukrainians,” she said. “So why didn’t Putin do this during the Trump administration? Because he thought Trump was weakening Ukraine, especially on this ground. The problem of Ukraine being unfortified goes back several years and much of the fault lies in the Trump administration.”

Journalist Drew Holden doesn’t buy that notion.

“I think President Trump had some real serious issues in his Russia policy – the Helsinki Summit didn’t portray America in a positive light, and Trump drew inaccurate moral equivalencies between the U.S. and Russia repeatedly – but I think the ‘Russian Collusion’ hoax overshadows his presidency in an unfair way,” he told Fox News Digital.

President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019. 
(Associated Press)

Trump’s warm rhetoric at times toward Putin and his public 2018 acceptance of Putin’s denial of U.S. election meddling – directly contradicted by U.S. intelligence conclusions – went neatly with feverish media coverage of alleged Russia collusion and even speculation he was a Russian “asset.” But Trump also signed off on anti-tank missile sales to Ukraine, successfully urged more NATO members to meet defense spending responsibilities, and approved sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

“The reason people are talking about Trump is because everyone knows that Putin didn’t dare move on Ukraine when he was in power for a reason,” The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway told Fox News Digital. “Trump was tougher on Russia where it mattered, including bolstering our energy production and reducing Russian leverage over Western Europe, but not needlessly provocative such as by pushing NATO expansion to Russia’s border. Biden has done the opposite of Trump in foreign policy and the result is that in less than a year, Putin felt empowered to do what he’s doing now.”

“The reason people are talking about Trump is because everyone knows that Putin didn’t dare move on Ukraine when he was in power for a reason.”

Mollie Hemingway.

National Review’s Rich Lowry theorized Trump’s unpredictability and willingness at times to use force made Putin more wary of him, such as when he ordered the strike that killed Iranian Quds leader Qassem Soleimani, a key figure in the Russian-allied Islamic Republic.

Hemingway expressed similar sentiments.

“[He] sought departure from nation-building, [but] he was a hawk on American interests and use of military to achieve political goals,” Hemingway told Fox News Digital. “When Trump iced Iran’s top general while he was driving around in Iraq, he sent a message to every other world leader that America, under Trump, was not to be messed with.”

Left-wing MSNBC national security analyst Malcolm Nance, who has repeatedly dabbled in conspiracy theories, suggested Ukraine had been extorted out of anti-tank missiles by Trump and said he would be responsible for the conflict becoming “bloody.” Trump did approve missile sales to Ukraine multiple times but was accused of dangling an already approved $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in 2019 in exchange for investigating Hunter Biden, which ultimately led to his first impeachment. The aid was ultimately released.

“Look, this is going to get bloody,” Nance said on Tuesday. “Donald Trump is going to be responsible for a lot of it. I mean, he extorted this country with the anti-tank missiles they need now to defend themselves. All I know is, we haven’t given Ukraine enough missiles here to really stop what’s coming. But if we do, well, maybe this whole thing can be reversed a bit.”

“Look, this is going to get bloody. Donald Trump is going to be responsible for a lot of it.”

MSNBC intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance.

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, a loyal Biden booster, tweeted Tuesday, “We won’t have to guess what Trump would have done – he would have praised Putin and rolled out the red carpet to the rest of Europe.”

Holden, whose threads on media hypocrisies and cold takes often go viral on Twitter, said it was likely more of a comfort zone to discuss Trump than critically assess Biden, who repeatedly said he was the only candidate running in 2020 who could take on Putin.

“I don’t think hypothesizing about how Trump may or may not have reacted is relevant or helpful as Russian troops seemingly get ready to invade Ukraine,” Holden told Fox News Digital. “I think the reality is that the [Biden administration] doesn’t have any answers to the crisis and that, for a lot of voices in the media, it’s a lot more comfortable to wax poetic about how things supposedly would have played out under Trump rather than confront that reality, especially where President Biden ran on a platform of having all the answers.”

Smoke billows from a power and heating plant after it was shelled in Shchastya, in the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. 
(Associated Press)

Partisan rancor about how Biden is handling the conflict has led to some pundits and former government officials demanding loyalty to the president, or at least silence. A House Republicans tweet calling Biden weak on the world stage this week drew media outrage, with CNN’s Kasie Hunt saying the GOP sounded like the “enemy,” former CIA Director John Brennan declaring the party had no soul, and MSNBC’s Joy Reid mourning the end of the “water’s edge” mantra that presidents abroad shouldn’t be criticized domestically.

Hemingway, a critic of the sprawling Russia probe, wasn’t having any of it.

“The corrupt corporate media and other Democrats spent every second of Trump’s presidency calling him a Russian traitor,” she told Fox News Digital. “It is absolutely absurd to turn around after that and say that criticism of Biden’s feckless foreign policy is now somehow off limits from reasonable and measured criticism.”

Fox News’ Yael Halon contributed to this report.

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