Tucker Carlson interviewing Vladimir Putin in Moscow. (Photo by GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Why Is The American Right Pandering to Putin?

Plus: In defense of Joe Biden. . . and Donald Trump.

Today in The Free Press: We steelman the opposition. Trump has a point on NATO (really!). And Biden isn’t too old for the White House (really! Read on. . . )

Plus, a new documentary we can’t wait to watch. But first, Peter Savodnik on the American conservatives pandering to Putin. 

On Monday, Tucker Carlson appeared in one autocratic country to praise how great life is in another. At the World Government Summit in Dubai, he extolled the utopia that is Moscow. 

“It is so much cleaner and safer and prettier, aesthetically, its architecture, its food, its service, than any city in the United States,” Carlson said of the Russian capital. “How did that happen?”

Carlson had been in the city a week earlier for an interview with Vladimir Putin, who steamrolled the exiled Fox News host as he waxed poetic about Russian history, justified the imprisonment of an American journalist, and called Ukraine an “artificial country.” And yet, among some members of the American right, Carlson’s friendly chat with an enemy of democracy wasn’t condemned—but heralded as a roaring success. 

Benny Johnson—a Republican YouTuber with more than 2 million followers on X—proclaimed: “TUCKER may literally bring peace to the world with this interview” and “Lies create war and slavery. The truth shall set you free.” Matt Walsh, the podcaster and Daily Wire columnist, tweeted to his 2.7 million X followers: “Tonight as Putin gave intelligent, scholarly answers that delved into a thousand years of Russian history, President Biden was babbling incoherently about how the president of Egypt is actually the president of Mexico.”

Why has the new American right fallen for the warden of the deepest of deep states? Free Press writer Peter Savodnik explains:

What’s happening today: 

  • At least one person was killed in a shooting at the Super Bowl victory parade in Kansas City. (Read more.)

  • Russia might be trying to put nuclear weapons in space. (Read more.)

  • Ukraine says it sank a Russian ship in the Black Sea. (Read more.)

  • Democrats regained George Santos’s Long Island seat in a special election. (Read more.)

  • San Francisco might be back. (Read more.

  • Reporters asked Joe Biden what he was giving up for Lent and he replied, “You guys.” (Read more.)

  • Rachel Dolezal has been fired from her job as a high school teacher after images of her posing nude were posted on OnlyFans. (Read more.)

  • And tooth fairy inflation is a real problem, with kids now receiving $100 bills and Louis Vuitton bracelets. (Read more.)

In Defense of Biden and Trump

Neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump have had a great week. 

Recent headlines—about the president’s age (81), and his predecessor’s freewheeling approach to foreign policy (saying Russia should “do whatever the hell they want” with freeloading members of NATO)—trigger our worst fears about the two men we’ll likely be forced to choose between come November 5. I know they do for me.

But there are people out there who believe Biden’s age isn’t an insurmountable problem—and that Trump is bang on about NATO. 

Today, we bring you two people brave enough to make these arguments to you.

Up first: Matt Bennett on Biden’s age. 

Matt is a moderate Democratic strategist who worked in Bill Clinton’s White House and today runs Third Way, a think tank in Washington, D.C. 

While many Democrats have been in full freak-out mode since last Thursday’s Justice Department report painted a scathing picture of Biden’s mental faculties—calling him “an elderly man with a poor memory”—Matt is sleeping just fine. 

Here, he explains why the age issue isn’t a problem—and why he’s confident the American people will give Biden another four years in the White House.

Voters are undoubtedly worried about Biden’s age, but by the time we get to November, it will be a choice between two old men. And let’s face it: they are both very old. They are just three years apart. And the question is—what has age meant for them? For Joe Biden it has meant he looks older, he’s slowed down, and he occasionally forgets things. But it has also meant deep experience, wisdom, and empathy. Whereas for Trump it has meant the opposite—a chaotic, angry nastiness that is overwhelmingly evident in everything he does. 

Remember: incumbent presidents generally win, especially when they’ve done a good job. And Joe Biden has done a very good job. His achievements are starting to make themselves felt even in the lives of people who don’t pay attention to politics. 

The economy is incredibly strong, inflation is easing, and while things have been difficult for people, the future is very bright. The misery index, which is a combination of unemployment and inflation, is projected by Goldman Sachs to be the lowest on record this year. Any president running with these economic numbers has a very good chance of getting reelected. 

In the meantime, Democrats need to let go of the idea that there’s some better alternative to Joe Biden out there. Whether he steps aside is up to him and him alone—and there’s zero evidence that he wants to. And while a last-minute change would be good news for political journalists, it would be bad news for Democrats: a chaotic spectacle that would generate hard feelings on the part of the losers and their supporters. 

One very heartening thing for Democrats at the moment is that, apart from one gadfly congressman from Minnesota challenging Biden in the primary, everyone in Democratic politics is united behind the president. And the last seven days have not changed that.

If you lean right, we suspect you are ready to throw your phone across the room. But wait! Now it’s time to hear the other side of things. Donald Trump triggered global uproar over the weekend when, at a rally in South Carolina, he said that he once warned NATO allies that he’d advise Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” if alliance members failed to meet their defense spending target of 2 percent of their countries’ GDP. 

Biden called the comments “un-American,” and many agreed Trump’s remarks were a sign he cannot be expected to defend some of America’s closest allies. 

But here, Elbridge Colby, the author of The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict who helped devise the Trump administration’s 2018 National Defense Strategy, explains why the ex-president’s position on NATO is completely right.

The fact of the matter is that Russia under Vladimir Putin is a very dangerous state. It has embarked on an evil invasion of Ukraine. And it is reverting large sectors of its economy to military production. The United States cannot simultaneously take the lead in dealing with that real threat from Russia in Europe while also preparing for the very real possibility of confrontation with China in the Pacific, let alone get into a large war in the Middle East. 

China is a far stronger power than Russia; Asia is a larger and more rapidly growing part of the global economy than Europe; and the United States does not have a military that is capable of fighting multiple large wars at the same time. The United States needs to prioritize its military effort on China and Asia. 

If that leaves a gap in Europe, the solution is not to wail and gnash teeth, but rather for NATO members to get sober and serious about meeting their commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense—if not more. As General Christopher G. Cavoli, the NATO commander, has pointed out, that 2 percent is supposed to be a floor—not a ceiling. 

The fact that the Americans have been carrying a disproportionate degree of the burden is unsustainable. And anybody who is pretending otherwise is ultimately harming European defense. So those of us who are saying “Europe, you need to do more” are keeping Europe safer than those who refuse to acknowledge reality. 

WATCH: The Coddling of the American Mind

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind, published in 2018, is one of the most important books of the last decade. I’m not saying that because Greg and Jonathan are both Free Press contributors, but because it’s one of those books you want to thrust into people’s hands when they ask you why the world’s gone crazy. 

Lukianoff and Haidt revealed the social trends that led to a fragile generation of young Americans and explained the damage in shocking detail: from rising rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide, to censorship and illiberalism on university campuses. It’s a must-read. 

So we were excited to learn their book has been turned into a feature documentary. We were even more excited when we learned that this movie is backed by Substack, the platform that hosts The Free Press

The Coddling of the American Mind is Substack’s first foray into documentaries. The movie’s director, Ted Balaker, told me “The film industry is too often consumed by cowardice and conformity” with “gatekeepers suppressing many worthwhile projects before they ever reach audiences.” 

He calls his collaboration with Substack “an experiment. If it succeeds, we hope it will pave the way for other heterodox filmmakers.” 

The Coddling of the American Mind will be released February 22 and available exclusively on Substack. Here’s an exclusive sneak peek at the trailer: 

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor at The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman

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