Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Did Putin Win the Debate?

Did Vladimir Putin watch the debate last week? He's not saying, but we bet he did. He doesn't like to speak English in public (and when he talks to foreign leaders on the sidelines at conferences, he speaks German if the other leader does, otherwise he speaks English, because his German is better than his English). Still, people who have heard him speak in English say that he can converse adequately in the language and he understands it perfectly. Therefore, watching the debate in the original language makes sense. Additionally, he could have asked a staffer to put in Russian subtitles or dub it in Russian. Here is a video of Putin speaking heavily accented, but otherwise reasonably fluent, English. And understanding any language when spoken is much easier than speaking it yourself.

What is of great interest to him is how the Republican Party feels about the war. He already knows how Trump feels about it, but he has to consider the possibility that Trump could die or be disqualified or be in prison on Jan. 20, 2025. So to cover all bases, he surely wants to know what other potential candidates would do if they became commander-in-chief.

The message he surely got from the debate is that most of the Republican candidates would be happy to stop sending weapons to Ukraine. He also undoubtedly understands that even if Biden wins, but the Republicans control at least one chamber of Congress, they could refuse to appropriate any more funding for Ukraine. The big takeaway for Putin is keep on fighting (although a temporary truce to allow his army to regroup would be fine). After all, there is a small chance that after Jan. 20, 2025, the U.S. will stop funding Ukraine, in which case Putin can just swoop in, gobble up Ukraine, and incorporate it entirely into Russia as one or more provinces. After that, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania might well be on the menu. Yes, they are NATO members, but tell that to President Trump, President DeSantis, or House Lapdog McCarthy.

Will Ukraine affect the election? It already is. If the Republicans nominate a candidate who wants to abandon Ukraine, Joe Biden is going to say: "If we abandon Ukraine, what do we do when Putin's emboldened army then rolls across Estonia or Latvia, both of which border Russia? They are NATO countries. Do we send American soldiers there to die? If not, what happens when China takes Taiwan by force? Is Israel next?" If the current stalemate continues until Nov. 2024, the war is very likely to be a campaign issue. But in war, like in politics, a week is a long time. (V)

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