Donald Trump held a rally in Lewis Center, Ohio, on Saturday, his third rally of the week, according to The Washington Post, and 22nd rally since his inauguration on January 20, 2017 — a rate of more than one rally every four weeks. At the Ohio rally, Trump reheated his regular attack against the ongoing investigation into his 2016 campaign's collusion with Russia as "a Democrat-inspired witch hunt!"
But what captured the attention of Trump-watchers on the social media platform Twitter was not Trump's own comments about Russia, but a photograph of two Trump supporters, middle-aged men, one sporting a trademark red "Make America Great Again" cap — and both clad in T-shirts bearing an unusual slogan: "I'd rather be a Russian than a Democrat." The photo was also posted on the internet forum Democratic Underground.
The shirts appeared to be the latest example of the Republican party's recently discovered adoration for the Russian state under Vladimir Putin. As Brookings Institute Fellow James Kirchick wrote in Politico last year, "Russia has been targeting the American right since at least 2013, the year Putin enacted a law targeting pro-gay rights organizing and delivered a state-of-the-nation address extolling Russia's 'traditional values' and assailing the West's 'genderless and infertile' liberalism." That same year, a Kremlin-linked think tank released a paper declaring Putin, "World Conservativism's New Leader."The photo, which was retweeted numerous times, was taken by Jeremy Pelzer for Cleveland.com.
Last month, as The New York Times reported, federal prosecutors brought charges against a 29-year-old Russian woman, Maria Butina, accusing her of infiltrating the National Rifle Association as part of a Russian intelligence operation to promote Putin's agenda through the gun rights group — and other American conservative groups as well.
As New York Magazine reported, in an analysis of Putin's relationship to Trump and the conservative movement, "Vladimir Putin has cultivated a mix of overt and covert influence with a wide array of right-wing politicians throughout the West.... There is the openly shared ideology of white nationalism, with its belief that Christian Europe should ally with Russia against the common terrorist foe."
The "Rather Be A Russian" shirt sported by the Trump supporters in Sunday's viral photo appears to fit into the ongoing reported pattern of Putin's cultivation of Trump and the American far right, as former world chess champion and outspoken Putin foe Garry Kasparov noted.Not all conservatives got on board with the new love of Russia, however, as the American Enterprise Institute's Norman Ornstein made clear. As did National Review Online editor Jonah Goldberg. Others, like former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, were simply disgusted by the Trump supporters in their Russia shirts. The photo went viral on the same day that, as The Inquisitr reported, Trump himself admitted for the first time that his son Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting in Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, with a group of Russians including a Kremlin-linked lawyer was set up expressly for the purposes of obtaining information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.