In 1980, many conservatives had grown dismayed at the Republican Party’s thawing views on the Soviet Union and communism as an existential threat to the United States. Following the quagmire of the Vietnam War and the brutality of the Korean War, Americans had lost their bloodlust and welcomed Richard Nixon’s embrace of Maoist China and his signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation (SALT) Treaty, which called for an overall freeze in the nuclear capabilities of both nations.

Jimmy Carter followed in Nixon’s footsteps by signing SALT II, which built upon the first treaty and curtailed the manufacturing of new nuclear weapons. While some heralded it as an important step forward, then California Governor Ronald Reagan saw it as American weakness, and sailed into power on the promise to “make America great again.” In Reagan’s and many conservatives' eyes, the United States was growing too weak and needed a muscular foreign policy to fend off the rising wave of socialism that was sweeping through Latin America.

In his first term, Reagan would famously call the Soviet Union the “evil empire,” and in his second term called on former Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. For many conservatives, Reagan’s rallying call was considered a golden age in the Cold War. His posturing of the war in terms of good and evil left an impression on a generation of statesmen and diplomats who came of age in the Reagan era.

Now, however, it appears that the Republican Party is in the middle of an identity crisis as their leader, President Donald Trump, is more fond of praising Russian President Vladimir Putin than he is of criticizing the dictator.

“For the better part of half a century, conservatives defined themselves as the party that was the strongest against the Soviet Union," said Charlie Sennott, WGBH news analyst and CEO of the GroundTruth Project. "They talked about the tyranny of the Soviets, they talked about the dangers of socialism, they talked about the treachery of Russia, all the way through until suddenly we get to Donald Trump, and it all shifts on a dime, and suddenly they’re cozying up to Putin. I just don’t get it. I don’t get how conservatives in America don’t see how bizarre this is, and don’t see this as something to be concerned about.”

Sennott isn’t alone in noticing this about-face. Beginning in the 1950s, conservative foreign policy has steadily moved away from calling for an isolationist approach in favor of a globalist one. As American corporations began to see the benefits of doing business in nations where labor was remarkably cheaper, the dominant school of thought espoused by people like Henry Kissinger and William F. Buckley was that intervening in non-democratic societies and using American military prowess to convert them into capitalist, liberal democracies was not just good for American business, but good for the entire world. President Trump, however, has turned this convention on its head, choosing to forgo diplomatic relationships built on a mutual desire for stable democracies and preferring the company of authoritarian strongmen like Putin, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

“Conservatives, led by eminent historians such as Richard Pipes and Robert Conquest, once distinguished themselves by their ability to explain how tyrants could come to power as easily through lies and promises as through the sword,” Arch Puddington wrote in an August 2018 article in the conservative beacon The Weekly Standard. “It is tragic to see conservative voices now being raised to celebrate demagogues and rationalize oppression just because the Republican president has an affinity for strongmen.”

Some conservatives, like Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John Cornyn (R-TX), have maintained the traditional conservative enmity toward Putin despite Trump’s praise. A July 2018 Gallup poll, though, found that 40 percent of Republicans “say Russia is an ally of or friendly toward the U.S.,” and prominent conservative figures like Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Fox News host Sean Hannity have publicly shared Trump’s views.

As the Republican voices who are against President Trump’s friendly relations with dictators across the globe slowly fade into the minority, it appears the Republican Party is beginning to adapt their foreign policy based on what Trump wants and not the other way around.