Four Opinion Writers on How the G.O.P. Fringe Took Over American Politics

Lawmakers in Ohio this week proposed legislation that would restrict discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, borrowing from Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. It’s the latest in a raft of culture-war legislation in Republican statehouses aimed against abortion, transgender rights, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and critical race theory.

Meanwhile, Democrats are struggling to advance a national agenda amid spiraling inflation and energy prices.

The Times columnists Jamelle Bouie and Ezra Klein join the Times Opinion podcast hosts Jane Coaston and Lulu Garcia-Navarro to discuss these and other issues.

Their conversation, recorded Thursday morning, is available in the audio file and the transcript below.

Four Opinion Writers on How the G.O.P. Fringe Took Over American Politics

The following conversation has been edited.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: Ezra, I’m going to start with you. The thing that strikes me about these Republican bills is that they’re staking ground on some things that are not necessarily popular with the majority of voters. That would seem to suggest to me that there’s political risk in doing them, but instead these laws have been copied from G.O.P. statehouse to G.O.P. statehouse. Why do you think that’s happening, in your view?

Ezra Klein: So I think there are a couple of levels you can think about these bills on. One is to think about what you might imagine as the modal Republican strategy for a year like this. Every Republican could spend the next couple of months just saying, “Huh, gas prices are pretty high, aren’t they?” And that would be it. They would win the midterms. It would be done.

And instead, the Republican Party, in part due to the incentives of modern media, in part due to the example offered by Donald Trump and how he shot to prominence and then ultimately to the presidency, has become extraordinarily attention-hungry among its rank-and-file legislators. And so if you can create the next culture-war kernel by passing a really brutal piece of legislation — and these are brutal pieces of legislation that will hurt a lot of very just ordinary kids who need some help — then you can catapult to the center of the national debate.

So I don’t think Mitch McConnell wants to be having this conversation. I don’t think Kevin McCarthy wants to be having this conversation. I think they want to talk about how Joe Biden is a failure. But the Republican Party doesn’t have that kind of control over its own structure and its own institutional members now. And so at a time when there’s a lot of tailwinds for them, they are nevertheless pulled along by the more extreme and attention-driven members of their own caucus.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: It’s kind of like applying the attention economy to legislation. Jamelle, what are your thoughts?

Jamelle Bouie: I largely agree that this is an attempt to do something like what Trump did: capture attention, generate energy amongst one’s most fervent supporters. Sort of draw the opposition into an argument and hope that you’re able to frame the argument in your direction, and capture the attention of people who may just be marginally paying attention to the whole thing.

There’s a good case to make that Republicans can be successful at this precisely because they have this very sophisticated media apparatus: not just Fox News, but a broad constellation of outlets and different modes of delivery that allow them to, if not shape a message from its inception, then shape how its supporters receive any given message or any given piece of information.

Having said that, I do think that Republicans are making something of a strategic mistake based on a misunderstanding of how Donald Trump was able to get into a position to win the presidency in the first place. And that is, Trump — as much as he calibrates anything — calibrated the kinds of offense that he caused. And so he both leveraged and utilized nativism, and racism, and these sorts of things, but he also presented himself as pretty liberally minded on L.G.B.T. rights, even though that his likely appointments and nominations were not going to be that. He himself presented himself as, I’m a New York libertine, so of course I have no problem with the L.G.B.T. community.

He presented himself obviously as more of a moderate on economic policy, on the social safety net, which also appealed to voters who like Medicare, and like Medicaid, and like Social Security, and don’t want to give those things up to vote for a Republican. And I think that the Republican politicians, Republican officials, they may be generating a lot of fervent enthusiasm amongst their strongest supporters. But it’s unclear to me whether this is going to really make an impact with voters at large.

I mean, I live in Virginia, and we just had our gubernatorial election last year. And for as much attention as the C.R.T. stuff got in the Virginia gubernatorial race, later analysis suggests that it wasn’t the C.R.T. stuff that drove Glenn Youngkin’s victory. It was traditional kind of midterm backlash to the party in power. And also, Youngkin ran on lowering the grocery tax and increasing teacher pay. So, bread-and-butter issues are what helped attract a lot of voters to him.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: So you’re saying that maybe these very controversial things that the G.O.P. is enacting are kind of a sideshow to what really matters for voters. Jane, I want you to jump in, because G.O.P. strategy aside, these laws are having real-world consequences, as Ezra said, that will be hard to undo. It wasn’t so long ago that same-sex marriage was legalized in this country, and it seemed that things had turned a corner. Why do you think this is the issue the G.O.P. are trying to mainstream, and where do you think it’s going?

Jane Coaston: Well, I mean it’s because we live in hell.

But it is interesting how repetitive this strategy is. I went back to some old Times pieces talking about the Southern Baptist Convention’s boycott of Disney, because Disney started offering same-sex health care benefits in 1995. I think that for anyone who is L.G.B.T. and over the age of 30, this all seems very repetitive.

Ezra noted that one of the challenges that the G.O.P. is having now is that they’ve got this wave of people who are just screaming, “OK, groomer,” at literally any L.G.B.T. person on the internet. And then you’re having National Review articles, like, “Maybe don’t say that?” And no one’s listening.

But I think that part of this is because these issues have to do, one, with a conceit of what L.G.B.T. people are and how L.G.B.T. people become L.G.B.T. I think we’ve seen over the last couple of days, some social conservatives who essentially argue that bills like in Florida, which keep being posited as being about sex ed — they aren’t about sex ed. There’s no mention of sex education or sexual activity in that bill. It mentions sexual orientation and gender identity. But the idea is that if you simply do not ever let people know that there is such thing as gay or trans people, then people will not be gay or trans.

Rod Dreher, the conservative writer said that, oh, no, no, when we’re talking about grooming, we’re not talking about pedophiles — which is ridiculous. But he essentially said that, oh, it means that an adult who wants to separate children from a normative sexual and gender identity to inspire confusion in them, which just reminds me of Anita Bryant in 1978, essentially arguing that homosexuals must recruit, and that all children are cisgender and heterosexual until something happens.

I guess I just keep thinking, like, I saw the movie “Mannequin” once when I was a kid. And that was it! It just did it. I saw Kim Cattrall and that was it, I was off to the races.

But I also think that for as much as Trump held a Pride flag and made some bones out of performatively not caring about the “debate” about L.G.B.T. rights and L.G.B.T. people, that’s not to say that people within the conservative caucus stopped caring. They are still mad about Bostock. They’re still mad about Obergefell.

For people who are troubled by trans rights, and specifically the rights of trans kids, I think that you’re seeing a lot of people who are like, “Oh, you’re just being homophobic. You’re yelling at teachers who mention that they’re gay. You’re very upset about gay and lesbian kids, gay and lesbian parents.” That’s something that we keep needing to relearn: that there is no part of the L.G.B.T. community that’s OK for some social conservatives. It’s not as if like, “Trans rights went too far, but we’re totally fine with gay couples. We’re totally fine with everything like that.” That might have been how it was parlayed, but that was never true.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: You all seem to agree on this fundamental point that there’s a great deal of danger for the G.O.P. in pushing these culture-war issues.

Jane Coaston: I mean, I want to be clear here because I don’t think that the danger is not to the Republican Party. I think that there’s a good chance that at the end of this year they win in the midterms having an entirely different messaging set. What I do think is that the real risk is to L.G.B.T. people and to see L.G.B.T. people as a danger once again. This is the caravan, but even more so because this has been going on for 50 years.

Ezra Klein: I want to add something also to that, that Jane’s comments jogged for me, because one of the dangers is the composition and motivating energies of the Republican coalition. And I think a story you could tell about conservatives over the past 10, 15, 20 years is this constant mainstreaming, this constant effort to figure out how to harness the energy of the most toxic parts of their coalition that two years earlier they were pushing to the side. So birtherism is a relatively fringe movement that becomes the core of the party. They nominate the guy who is leading the birther charge a few years after most of the more sober politicians are pushing it to the side. And this, “OK, groomer” stuff, this is the mainstreaming of QAnon. I think it’s important to be very clear about this.

I mean, to coin a term here — I’m in California, so there’s a fair amount, or was a fair amount, of Woo-Anon out there, like yoga-doing QAnon followers — but this is “Trad-Anon,” right? This is a point where the traditional Christian conservative coalition is finding a way to meet the QAnon energy and come up with this strange —

Jane Coaston: It’s a secular fundamentalist religion. It’s QAnon, but they’ve taken — you don’t hear talk about traditional marriage anymore. You don’t hear talking about sincerely held religious beliefs. This is not the RFRA fight of 2015, 2016. This is QAnon, but an areligious QAnon.

Ezra Klein: Well, it’s both, right? Because on the one hand, you have a Rod Dreher version of it, which is very, very Christian, “We’re trying to protect traditional gender roles.” It’s why he’s out there tweeting that Viktor Orban in Hungary is now the leader of the entire West. And on the other side you have this groomer thing, which is an attempt to take QAnon’s view — which is one reason it’s resonating on the far right — that all of politics is an effort by Democrats to protect pedophiles and then find some way to sort of wink, wink that you’re on board with that view of politics while saying it’s actually a little bit about something else.

And so this is just one of the dimensions of it that I find really unnerving. Countries live or fall on how well they police the fringes in their political parties. And the Republican Party is so unbelievably bad at doing it. And every two years you think they can’t possibly be worse at not keeping out the worst elements of their party. And they show you, no, no, no, no, they’re going to bring those people into the core, too.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: Jamelle, I want to ask you this, though, because we’ve been talking a lot about the G.O.P., but what can be said about the Democrats? Because what is always fascinating to me is that you have Democrats that have policies that enjoy broad support. But they can’t seem to get their agenda passed while they are in power. I mean, one thing is the G.O.P. and what they’re doing. But it seems like the Democrats can’t seem to get traction on things that enjoy broad support.

Jamelle Bouie: I think there are a few things here. I mean, in terms of getting policies through Congress, they just don’t have the votes. They’re reliant on their majority in the Senate — in particular on one senator, Joe Manchin, whose entire political brand kind of depends on him publicly being an obstacle to Democratic priorities, and then another senator, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who seems to want to try to cultivate a kind of John McCain maverick energy, which for her also means publicly and visibly standing in the way of Democratic priorities.

And so I think this picture would look very different if there was one more or two more senators, right? If Cal Cunningham in North Carolina had won, if Susan Collins’s opponent in Maine had won, we’d be looking at a very different situation than we are now.

But I think beyond the problem of winning elections and having a larger majority, which is just ultimately what the issue is here, I do think Democrats have adopted a faulty idea of what is going to drive political success. It’s very clear that the idea Democrats had going into 2021 was if they just delivered economic growth, and they delivered policies, and they kept their heads down and did hard work, then that would produce a public that was inclined to re-elect Democrats.

But what seems to be happening, what Republicans seemed to have figured out, is that the actual popularity of the things you’re saying may be a little less important than your ability to seize attention, drive conversations, create a strong impression in the minds of people. And I don’t think Democrats have really been doing that. And I think that the arguments over these bills are actually a good example of it.

I think the Democratic Party is having a hard time figuring out exactly how to go about pushing against this stuff because it runs into this theory of the case they have. There doesn’t seem to be an inclination to really just swing — to make what may sound like outlandish accusations, but that push strongly against the messaging and the rhetoric coming from the Republican Party.

Ezra Klein: I think that Jamelle gets that right, on both the levels. The reason the Democrats can’t pass bills is they don’t have enough votes to pass them. It’s as simple as that. It’s not a messaging problem, fundamentally. Although, I will say that the point of Joe Biden is that he was going to be good at negotiating with egotistical, hard-to-deal-with members of the U.S. Senate.

And I do worry about a sense of resignation that has set in at the White House around Joe Manchin. I would like to see more constant efforts at trying than I’m currently seeing. They seem to be letting their poor relationship with Manchin simply deteriorate when they need to be figuring out how to fix it. And at least from my reporting, what I can tell, I’m not seeing it.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: But Ezra, I want to ask you this about the Democrats. I mean, it is a numbers game. Of course it is. But on the other hand, I don’t see Democratic leaders really standing up and saying, this is the ground that I’m going to die on, this is the hill that has to be crested, in the same way that the Republicans are on these very controversial bills.

Ezra Klein: So, one, I don’t think that it’s the national Republicans who are trying to make the controversial bills the center of it. But to this broader point you’re making, and to something Jamelle said, the Democratic leaders have had a theory that they’re going to push popular bills. They’re going to try to pass those bills and they’re going to try to run on them.

And that theory basically has failed. They passed the American Rescue Plan. It was a very popular bill. They tried to run using it to generate more momentum for Build Back Better. They did not get Build Back Better passed, and now the child tax credit is expiring. And now they’ve fundamentally lost agenda control.

So it’s like, the agenda is now Russia, which is a world event. They can’t do anything about that. And I think broadly speaking, Joe Biden’s been doing a good job, with the exception of occasional ad-libs. And then there’s inflation, which they’re also really struggling with and to some degree bear some responsibility for.

What they are not doing is the other side of populism, which I think of as unpopularism. And agenda control in American politics comes from courting, choosing, engaging in controversy. For something to dominate the news, it needs the energy of not just support but opposition. That’s why some of these G.O.P. bills in Florida and elsewhere are dominating the news in the way they are.

There are things that Joe Biden could do that would have that internal electricity. They could cancel student loan debt. I don’t know that they think that’s a good idea at the moment. But if they decided to actually try, which is something Chuck Schumer wants them to do, something Elizabeth Warren wants them to do, that would be controversial enough that it would reshape the agenda. American politics would be seized by arguments over whether or not canceling student loan debt is a good idea, and that might be territory more favorable to them. I do not myself understand what fights Democrats want the 2022 election to be over. They seem to me to be in a fundamentally quite reactive place right now —

Jamelle Bouie: Yes.

Ezra Klein: — responding to world events, responding to every month’s economic news drop. And at some point, if they want to do anything differently than that, they’re not just going to have to choose which popular things they say. They’re going to have to choose which controversial things they say, such that Republicans and others engage on the other side, and the locus of American political conflict moves back onto ground they’ve chosen.

Jamelle Bouie: An example of this, pulling from what we’ve been talking about, is if Joe Biden were to, on Friday, give a national speech — from the Oval Office, from the Rose Garden, wherever, a big national set piece speech denouncing the Republican Party as embracing gross homophobia, this would be controversial. People would get upset. But it would seize the agenda. It would reorient things toward talking about these issues on ground that might be more favorable to Democrats. And I see no indication that Democratic leaders are even thinking in those terms.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: Jane, I want to think about this idea of unpopularism, that the Democrats, as Ezra says, are not wanting to push something that might not have broad support. But of course, there is someone who loves to do that a lot: Trump. And I am wondering about what you see his role is coming up in the 2022 midterms. Because we have him endorsing a lot of candidates, including Sarah Palin for Congress this week, targeting some major G.O.P. incumbents who have stood up to him, like Lisa Murkowski and Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, all the while still peddling the big lie. How much influence do you see him having these days? And how should we regard Trump as a force in politics, a force in society — and, I guess, are those two the same thing?

Jane Coaston: I know that I’m probably the only extreme sports fan on here. But I feel like sometimes when we’re talking about Democratic strategy, it’s like, if only they would run the offense we think they should run, they would win. I actually don’t know what Democrats should do or what would be best. There’s what I would want them to do, and I don’t know if it would work.

But as to Trump, I think what you’re going to see is actually a decline in his influence, because he absolutely will not move on past the 2020 election. He can’t do it. He is physically unable to do so. And you’re seeing with his endorsements in the upcoming cycle — actually a number of his endorsements aren’t doing very well.

You’re seeing this in Georgia. You’re seeing this in other places, with Herschel Walker or something like that where, yes, Mitch McConnell has said that he’s got his support, but there is some concern, I think, on the ground that that could be another losing race. Because, again, if your litmus test for Trump has nothing to do with anything that is taking place in 2022, but all has to do with whether or not you’re willing to say that Trump actually won the 2020 election …

He is a losing one-term president who is existing interminably as a losing one-term president. It is important to note that Democrats want him to be more influential than he actually is because he is a major vote-driver for Democrats, as we’ve seen in Georgia and elsewhere.

And so I think that you’re seeing a lot of Republicans who are like, “Can we move on, can we move on,” and Donald Trump will not. Donald Trump will talk about how, oh, Ron DeSantis is fine, but I would absolutely beat him in 2024. He will do interviews. He will put out very bad failing social media networks. And so I think how he should be considered is, he is an angry man who won’t move on and who won’t go away. And no matter what Republicans want him to say or want him to do, he will not be on any party line that is not his own.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: Trump’s influence is solidified in one very particular place, and that’s on the conservative Supreme Court. And today, a big win for Democrats — the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. I want to bring her into this because it actually fits into what we’ve been discussing. Because the G.O.P. slammed her in the hearings with a lot of partisan attacks about C.R.T., asking her to define what a woman is and QAnon-adjacent questions about child pornography. And yet, in polling, people said that they hated the attacks, and she has a majority of support. So, Jamelle, what should we take away from that?

Jamelle Bouie: We should take away from that that these attacks are not some sort of, pardon the expression, trump card. That when you have someone like Judge Jackson, who looks like a perfectly lovely woman, and is obviously very qualified and obviously very successful, and you have Ted Cruz shouting about how she is friendly to criminals and child pornographers. I think that for ordinary people who aren’t paying super close attention — they’re really just taking in images and impressions — it just looks ridiculous. And it seems unconvincing.

To go back to what we’ve been talking about, I think that something similar may happen with these bills. Screaming that your kids’ gay third-grade teacher is a pedophile or a groomer when you know that this person has been absolutely lovely to you, your child and your family — it’s not going to fly, I think, for most people or for people outside of this narrow bubble.

One thing I will say about the experience of Judge Jackson and her nomination and how this has all played out, is I think it is a point in favor of the argument that back in 2016 President Barack Obama made a grave mistake in nominating Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court in an attempt to find bipartisan support. Not because Garland was not qualified to be on the court — although I think I have somewhat idiosyncratic views about what it means to be qualified — but because Garland didn’t engender really any kind of popular support in his favor. No one was excited by him. Just another boring guy you put on the Supreme Court.

I think what Jackson has in her favor is simply that she’d be the first Black woman on the court. And that excites people. That makes people enthusiastic. And that makes people much more willing to buckle down in her defense than they would otherwise be.

And so I think one lesson to take away from this, should Joe Biden get another Supreme Court nomination, either in the next two years or if he serves another term, is that for as much as it’s clear that Democratic Party elites and people at the highest echelons of this stuff very much believe that a Supreme Court nominee must be someone with a lot of judicial experience, etc., etc., they should also be looking for people who would actually excite the public, who would get people interested and excited about what’s going on in the court. Those are the sorts of nominees they should be looking for and putting forth and putting in public. Even if that nominee may fail, the mere fact of generating that enthusiasm is an important thing.

I think this actually connects to our broader conversation about Democrats, which is that Democrats need to stop thinking of politics as some sort of mechanistic system in which, like, Good Input A gets you Good Result B. It’s much more fluid, much more chaotic in that oftentimes you just need to swing. You need to aim at people’s passions and see what happens. Maybe it’ll work. Maybe it won’t. But I think connecting the people’s passions and their enthusiasms, can be much more successful than trying to be openly and outwardly and ostentatiously respectable.

Ezra Klein: Democrats are very taken, I think in general at the moment, with something political scientists like to call the median voter theorem, which is to say that the key thing in politics is getting to that median voter, the voter right in the middle, who’s the most ideologically moderate, and convincing them. And if you get that 50 percent plus one, or maybe you correct for the Senate bias, or it’s 55 percent plus one — whatever it might be — then you win.

And there is some truth to that. I think that a lot of folks on the left and critics of Democrats underrate the importance of ideology and policy positioning in politics. There really are moderates. But the flip side of that, to what Jamelle is saying, is that you have to reach the median voter. They have to hear what it is you’re saying. And the thing about the voters you need to reach is they’re often not paying super close attention. The people who are paying super close attention almost, by definition, have already made up their minds, otherwise they would not be paying such close attention because they wouldn’t care that much.

And so you need to do things that don’t just control the agenda but actually echo through the country. And that requires you to have not just a theory of what it is voters will find popular, but what it is that they will talk about, what it is the media will talk about. And this maybe goes to a big through line of this whole conversation. Democrats have a lot of theories of policy. They have a lot of theories of politics. They just do not have a theory of attention. And what I would say for the Trumpist Republican Party is it mostly doesn’t have a theory of policy. It has a middling theory of politics, and it is overwhelmed by its own theory of attention. And I don’t think there’s some kind of grand strategic plan happening over there.

But I think that one way to think about the asymmetry, or maybe the inversion of the two sides right now, is that Republicans know how to get attention, but they don’t know how to be strategic about it. And Democrats know how to be strategic, but they don’t know how to get attention.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: I want to pivot to a piece of news that is less domestic culture wars, and more of a global culture war. The Boston Marathon announced this week that Belarusian and Russian citizens who reside in those countries are not allowed to run in the race as a response to the war. The Boston Athletic Association, which runs the Boston Marathon, announced that they were “horrified and outraged” by the war, and they believe that they must do what they can to “support the people of Ukraine.”

I have a lot of thoughts about this, but I’d like to hear yours. I’m going to start with Jane, as I know you’re a sports aficionado. So I want your thoughts on this.

Jane Coaston: I personally think that this is not quite like freedom fries territory. But I do think it seems to be targeted at a very small group of people — as you said, it was Belarusian and Russian citizens who do reside in those countries. But Belarusian and Russian citizens who don’t reside in those countries will be allowed to run, but they’re not going to recognize their affiliation or flags.

I think it’s worth remembering that the process to enter or qualify for the Boston Marathon started for many people a year ago. You do not just decide to run the Boston Marathon. You are either running for a charity or you have a time in another marathon that qualifies you to run in Boston. And I’m trying to think, what is this going to do? Vladimir Putin is not going to be like, “Oh, no, a Russian citizen was not able to run a 2:03 at the Boston Marathon. I will ne’er sin no more!”

I think that there is an element to so much of our politics, especially on foreign policy, where we’ve got the “we got to do something” impulse. But one of the challenges is that there isn’t something that the Boston Marathon organizers, or people who run an opera house, or people who work in the art world — there’s not something they could do exactly that will in their view adequately punish the aggressions of the Russian government. It falls flat. And I think it’s kind of repulsive.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: I have to say, Jane, I agree with you. I think this was a real misstep. I don’t know that banning citizens of particular countries because they actually live in the countries of their citizenship, and those leaders are autocratic and there isn’t the freedom to protest or do any of the things that you would think of in a democracy, is actually beneficial to the cause of freeing Ukraine. But I’m interested in, Jamelle, your thoughts, and then Ezra.

Jamelle Bouie: I don’t disagree. It makes no real conceptual sense why you would do this. So Russian and Belarusian citizens who live in their countries cannot run in the Boston Marathon. OK. That doesn’t put any pressure on the leaders of those countries. If anything, it may encourage the view amongst the citizenry that the West is against them, that the West isn’t simply against the government or to the government’s actions, but actually actively against the citizens themselves. And it may prompt people to double down in their support for the government. So it just seems counterproductive.

Issue a statement. Condemn. Say that government officials can’t participate, they can’t watch, they can’t be there. If you want to go as far as to say, you can’t fly the flag, I actually think that’s probably fair because the flag is a symbol of the government as well. But banning the citizens, like Jane said, it seems like just doing something for the sake of doing something, and it doesn’t really seem very constructive. It doesn’t even seem like it was particularly well thought-out, like anyone was thinking about what you actually are trying to accomplish by doing this.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: Ezra?

Ezra Klein: I have a hard-and-fast rule that on any sports story I just think whatever Jane thinks. So on the specifics of this, I think whatever Jane thinks, and everything she said sounded correct to me.

From a consequentialist perspective, we need to think a bit about whether we are creating pressure on citizens in these countries to pressure their governments, or whether we are hardening their support for their governments. And recognizing that they live in highly censored, highly manipulated media ecosystems, I think we have to be pretty thoughtful about whether we’re just giving grist to their leaders to manipulate them more. And for the people who are only half in and out of that ecosystem — because Russian and Belarusian control over media is not absolute — whether we’re actually doing things that are going to make those wavering feel more nationalistic.

There’s a very big difference between strategically trying to win over a population and just trying to punish a country because it at a certain point just feels like we need to keep punishing. And, look, I want to punish Putin and those behind this war in every way that is possible. And I broadly support the sanctions, despite the tremendous pain they’re causing, because I do think that they are creating pressure in the long-run for Putin to end this. But I don’t know that doing things that actually target Russian citizens — without any obvious mechanism for pressuring the regime — makes a lot of sense.

And I’m worried about some of the news I hear and some of the polling I see coming out of Russia. You can only believe what you can believe in it, but that there is rising support for Putin, that there is a rising belief that the entire West is arrayed against Russia. And that this might actually, in terms of the domestic political pressures Putin faces, be making him more worried about the hard-liners who think he needs to go further, further, further and show Russian strength in the face of Western opposition rather than what our initial effort was, which was to try to get the more Westernized Russians — these oligarchs with their lofts in London — to pressure Putin to bring an end to this. So I worry that our view of this has, without anybody noting it, kind of flipped. And we may not be creating the incentive system that we had hoped to.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is a Times Opinion podcast host. Ezra Klein is the host of “The Ezra Klein Show” and a Times columnist. Jane Coaston is the host of “The Argument” podcast. Jamelle Bouie is a Times columnist.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

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Times Opinion audio produced by Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Alison Bruzek and Phoebe Lett. Fact-checking by Kate Sinclair, Mary Marge Locker and Alex Ellerbeck. Original music by Carole Sabouraud and mixing by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Shannon Busta, and editorial support from Kristina Samulewski. Our executive producer is Irene Noguchi. Special thanks to Lauren Kelley and Patrick Healy.

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