Given how the Republican Party has lionized Reagan, it’s difficult to imagine the party’s top leader embracing the country his predecessor once stood against. And yet, Trump has gone out of his way to laud Russian President Vladimir Putin on numerous occasions, even giving his leadership an “A” rating. Last month, Trump praised Putin as “very smart” for delaying his response to new American sanctions against Russia. And Putin has returned the favor, calling Trump a “clever man” and “talented.”
If that weren’t enough to make the Gipper roll over in his grave, Trump has even seemingly sided with Russia over his own government. After U.S. intelligence officials announced that Russia hacked into Democratic officials’ emails to influence the November election, the president-elect challenged their assessment. When American officials said that pro-Russian forces in Ukraine shot down a Malaysia Airlines flight in 2015, Trump claimed, “no one really knows who did it.” When he was asked about Putin killing dissenters, Trump replied, “Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also.” And, of course, Trump has famously claimed that Putin is a stronger leader than President Barack Obama.
Conservative Christians, including well-known evangelical leaders, have similarly defended Russia and decried the outgoing American president. Franklin Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, praised Putin in a 2014 op-ed for enacting harsh anti-LGBT laws:
Isn’t it sad, though, that America’s own morality has fallen so far that on this issue—protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda—Russia’s standard is higher than our own?
In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues. Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.
Graham also reportedly attacked Obama while visiting Russia—claiming, according to Russian press, that Obama “promotes atheism.” Nary a peep was heard from conservative Christians in response to Graham criticizing an American president before a foreign audience. Which is to say, they did not give Graham the treatment many gave the Dixie Chicks when the singers criticized George W. Bush while abroad.
The protection against the LGBT “agenda” that Graham referenced is a 2013 “gay propaganda” law that makes it illegal in Russia to regard straight and same-sex relationships as equal or disseminate materials promoting gay rights. The law is part of a Russian state-led crackdown on LGBT rights that has led to an increase in violence against gays and lesbians—including beatings, abductions, and public humiliation.
The year the law was passed, the World Congress of Families announced it would host its annual conference in Russia. (Though after much controversy, they canceled the gathering.) Headquartered in Rockford, Illinois, the WCF has been one of the most powerful religious-right groups fighting the legalizations of gay marriage and abortion abroad since its founding in 1997. The WCF has helped organize several events in Russia since 2010, and WCF’s executive director said he hoped American evangelicals would be “true allies” in Russia’s fight to protect Christian values.