McCarthy breaks with Trump on Putin: Russian leader not ‘savvy,’ ‘genius’

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), in a rare break with former President Trump, said Wednesday he doesn’t think Russian President Vladimir Putin’s moves leading up to the invasion of Ukraine were “savvy” or “genius.”

“I do not think anything savvy or genius about Putin,” McCarthy said at a press conference in the Capitol.

“I think Putin is evil. I think he’s a dictator. I think he’s murdering people right now,” McCarthy continued.

McCarthy has criticized Putin before, calling the Russian leader “reckless, evil and dangerous” in a Fox News interview late last month. But his latest remarks came in response to a direct question about whether he agreed with Trump’s assessment of Putin.

Trump last month called Putin’s strategy in Ukraine “very savvy” after the Russian president declared he would recognize two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine as independent just days before his troops began the invasion.

“I went in yesterday, and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent,” Trump said in an interview with the conservative “Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show.”

“So, Putin is now saying, ‘It’s independent,’ a large section of Ukraine. I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper,” Trump said.

“They’re gonna keep peace all right. No, but think of it. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy. … I know him very well. Very, very well.”

Trump has since shifted his tone, calling the Russian invasion of Ukraine “a holocaust” last week.

Yet some other corners of the far right have also expressed pro-Putin sentiments.

Tucker Carlson, the influential Fox News prime-time host, urged viewers last month to question negative views toward Putin. “It may be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious, what is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much?” Carlson said.

And at the fringe America First Political Action Conference late last month, the organizer, white nationalist Nick Fuentes, asked the crowd to “give a round of applause for Russia,” resulting in some attendees chanting, “Putin! Putin!”

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) both participated in that conference.

Aside from McCarthy, other top Republicans have also expressed disagreement with Trump when it comes to describing Putin as “savvy” and “genius.”

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that Putin is a “ruthless thug.”

“What President Putin is, is a ruthless thug who’s just invaded another sovereign country and killed thousands of innocent people,” McConnell said. “That’s what President Putin is.”

And at a gathering of Republican National Committee donors last week, former Vice President Mike Pence said, “There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin.”

A reporter asked McCarthy on Wednesday if he agreed with Pence’s stance.

“Yeah,” McCarthy replied.

Tags Donald Trump Kevin McCarthy Marjorie Taylor Greene Mike Pence Mitch McConnell Paul Gosar Tucker Carlson Vladimir Putin

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