“I do not think anything’s savvy or genius about Putin,” McCarthy told reporters at his weekly news conference when asked about Trump’s remarks. “I think Putin is evil. He’s a dictator. And I think he’s murdering people right now.”
During an interview on a right-wing talk radio program last month, Trump lauded Putin’s strategy for invading the country.
“I said, ‘This is genius,’” Trump said as he recalled watching the news after Putin declared two sections of Ukraine to be independent and ordered troops to storm the regions for alleged “peacekeeping” purposes.
“So, Putin is now saying, ‘It’s independent, a large section of Ukraine.’ I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s going to go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s the strongest peace force,” Trump said.
“We could use that on our southern border,” he added. “That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re going to keep peace all right. No, but think of it. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy.”
McCarthy also said he agreed with former Vice President Mike Pence’s comment last week that there is no room in the Republican Party for “apologists for Putin.”
Trump has since described the invasion of Ukraine as “a Holocaust” and “a horrible thing that’s happening,” urging Russia to stop killing Ukrainians. However, he has not walked back his praise of Putin. Trump has also repeatedly claimed that conflict would not have happened if he was still president.
Some of his allies on the far-right have behaved similarly.
When Russian aggression against Ukraine had not yet escalated into a full-scale invasion, Fox News host Tucker Carlson defended Putin, parroting Kremlin talking points in an infamous rant on Feb. 22 with such efficacy that Russian TV later aired segments of his broadcast. He has since shifted his tone, admitted he was mistaken, and has instead sought to blame President Joe Biden for the war.