ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
There was a striking image from a rally President Trump held in Ohio last weekend. A reporter from cleveland.com posted a photo of two Trump supporters wearing T-shirts that read I'd rather be a Russian than a Democrat. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving has been trying to make sense of a broader trend of some on the right showing coziness with Russia even as the president and his administration seem at odds over whether to treat the country as an adversary. Hi, Ron.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Republicans have traditionally been a party of hawks against Russia. And beyond this one really striking image from the rally over the weekend, there have been some more concrete examples of Republicans embracing Moscow. Tell us about them.
ELVING: Yes. The Gallup organization has recently done a poll that found 40 percent of self-identified Republicans said they now consider Russia to be an ally or at least a country friendly to the United States. That's rather striking because polls done before the Trump era did not find anything like that number of Republicans who felt that way about Russia.
SHAPIRO: And also among Republican leaders there have been direct overtures. Rand Paul was recently in Moscow. Tell us about this.
ELVING: Senator Rand Paul, Republican from Kentucky, has been hobnobbing around Moscow the past week, meeting with a number of people described as his counterparts, actually. If anything, they seem they might be somewhat higher up in the structure of the Russian Council than he is in the Senate of the United States. But he is seen there as a representative of President Trump. And he's really been given the red carpet treatment - no pun intended - and that is something that he seems to have embraced, not too surprisingly given that his attitude towards Russian interference in the 2016 election in the United States, as described by the U.S. intelligence community, as something less than a big deal. He says, like we haven't interfered with other people's elections? Like, this isn't the kind of thing that countries do to each other all the time? So he has kind of a shoulder-shrug attitude towards that, and the Russians welcome that as well.
SHAPIRO: Just a matter of where the leader of the party goes, the rest of the party will follow. As President Trump has been warm to Russia, other Republicans have done the same.
ELVING: There were precursors to President Trump's new attitude towards the Russians, or new at least for the Republican Party. Sarah Palin, for example, who was the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008, had said some nice things about Putin over the years, admiring the way he projected the strong nationalistic spirit of his country. And other Republicans did as well, even before the emergence of Donald Trump.
SHAPIRO: This puts Trump's national security team in a difficult position because they are dealing with sanctions against Russia. They're dealing with Russia's attempts at election interference while much of the rest of their party is going in a different direction.
ELVING: Just last week, we saw four or five people from the very top of the national security apparatus of the United States come to the White House briefing room and describe all the things they're doing to keep the Russians or anyone else from hacking the American elections this fall, the November midterm elections. These are the same people who have acknowledged that the Russians came after us in 2016 trying to hack into the system, not only into the email files of various Democrats but also into several states' actual vote tabulating, voter identification databases, things of that nature. This is what they're trying to prevent in 2018, making absolutely no bones about the fact that it's being done by the Russians. And as we heard from Vladimir Putin himself in Helsinki, they much prefer Donald Trump as president of the United States.
SHAPIRO: Is there any evidence that this is reshaping foreign policy in the long term?
ELVING: One thing that does seem to be changing about our foreign policy is our alliances and our alignment with countries around the world, particularly our European allies, Canada, as opposed to countries that we have been more at odds with for reasons - for reasons having to do with their undemocratic processes and for reasons having to do with their behavior, such as Putin going into Crimea, Putin supporting the regime in Syria. That kind of foreign policy seems to have been put on hold for a foreign policy that has a lot more to do with how foreign leaders relate to Donald Trump.
SHAPIRO: You can read more about this at npr.org from NPR's Ron Elving. Thank you, Ron.
ELVING: Thank you, Ari.
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