Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, on Feb. 26.OCTAVIO JONES/Reuters

The performance art that passes for conservative political discourse in the United States these days has reached new heights, or depths.

Donald Trump has long been an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin. When that suddenly became awkward, a few days ago, the former president and presumptive Republican nominee in 2024 crafted a new mantra: The Russian government is bad for invading Ukraine, but the Canadian government is worse for shutting down the protests in Ottawa.

This is a problem for those Conservatives who stood with the horn-honking truckers and their supporters in opposing pandemic measures. Leadership contender Pierre Poilievre, in particular, championed their cause. Now the MAGA crowd has granted that cause the moral equivalency of Ukrainians resisting a Russian invasion.

This is not a good look.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine would be deeply embarrassing for Mr. Trump, if he were capable of embarrassment. On Wednesday, even as Russian troops were on the move, a video surfaced of the former president extolling Mr. Putin’s keen grasp of realpolitik.

“I mean, he’s taking over a country for two dollars’ worth of sanctions. I’d say that’s pretty smart,” he said in a speech.

Except Mr. Putin’s armies haven’t taken over the country, at least not yet, and the sanctions are crippling Russia’s financial system. Maybe not so smart after all.

Shameless as ever, Mr. Trump pivoted on Saturday night in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. He characterized the Russian invasion of Ukraine as “an assault on humanity.” But he insisted that Mr. Putin was “smart” to invade, while “our leaders are dumb.”

And he declared that anyone looking for a real danger to liberty should “start with the democracy that is under threat right next door, a place called Canada.”

He claimed that “the tyranny we have witnessed in Canada in recent weeks should shock and dismay people all over the world. ... The peaceful movement of patriotic truckers, workers and families protesting for their most basic rights and liberties has been violently put down.”

“A line has been has crossed,” he told the CPAC audience. “You’re either with the peaceful truckers or you are with the left-wing fascists.” That would be Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government. (We’re assuming Mr. Trump isn’t aware of the provincial role in ending the protests, unless he thinks Ontario Premier Doug Ford is a left-wing fascist as well.)

As for Mr. Trump and his house: “We stand with the truckers and we stand with the Canadian people in their noble quest to reclaim their freedom.”

Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert echoed the sentiment on Fox News: “We also have neighbours to the north who need freedom and who need to be liberated.”

There are dank pools of the internet where people believe Mr. Putin is smart and strong, Joe Biden is dumb and weak, the protests in Ottawa were peaceful and patriotic, and Mr. Trudeau is a fascist.

A few of them might be card-carrying Conservatives, though most are likely more aligned with People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier, who has called Mr. Trudeau a “fascist psychopath.”

But these are not the attitudes of the great majority of the Canadian people, who would never in a thousand years equate courageous Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression with truckers complaining about vaccine mandates.

While Mr. Trudeau arguably worsened the protests in Ottawa through his inflammatory language, the government’s response to the crisis in Ukraine thus far has been pitch-perfect: matching and at times leading European and American allies in confronting the Russian threat.

This puts Conservatives in general, and Mr. Poilievre in particular, in a difficult spot. The Carleton MP made a big deal of his support for “freedom, not fear; truckers, not Trudeau.” That places him on the same side of the argument as Mr. Trump. Does he also think the Liberal government is a collection of “left-wing fascists?” Does he also think that Mr. Putin is smart and his opponents are dumb, that truckers and Ukrainians are equal victims of oppression?

If so, then he is offside with most Canadians, including most Conservatives. And that is not a place anyone who wants to become Conservative prime minister ought to be.

For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

Check Following for new articles