WASHINGTON — Russia's war on Ukraine is testing former President Donald Trump's sway with Republican officials. Most of them are treating him the way he's treating Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin: seeking distance, but refusing to condemn. While Trump inched closer to criticizing Putin's invasion of Ukraine Saturday night, he continued to portray the Russian leader in a positive light. "It happens to be a man that is just driven, he’s driven to put it together,” Trump said at a political rally in South Carolina. That followed a Thursday Fox News interview in which host Sean Hannity tried — and failed — to get Trump to offer anything but praise for Putin. The war in Ukraine has created a rare break between Trump and many Republican elites who fell into lockstep with him during his presidency but now see moral and political imperatives in calling Putin out as a villain. Yet there are hard limits to how far they will go in crossing Trump. "It suggests a lack of political fear that they previously would have had," former Florida Rep. David Jolly, who served in the House as a Republican but has since left the party, said. "Many will criticize Putin — not all — but they are not going to take the moment they have to turn around and criticize Donald Trump because they don’t need to. It would be an unforced error." When former Vice President Mike Pence said last week that there is "no room" in the GOP for "Putin apologists" — a thinly veiled swipe at Trump — he did so at a closed-door fundraiser. And he didn't use his political patron's name. Even going that far is "an indication that Mike Pence is not the future of the GOP," Jolly said. "Any separation from Donald Trump is a political liability." Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump’s closest allies in Congress, has called for Putin to be assassinated and introduced a resolution this month accusing the Russian president of war crimes. But rather than reprimanding Trump for calling Putin "a genius," Graham cast the remark as "a mistake." The handle-with-care treatment of Trump comes as he has isolated himself from most Republicans and most Americans when it comes to Putin. Nearly 90 percent of Americans have a "very unfavorable" view of Putin after the invasion of Ukraine. Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who has been a leading Trump critic for y . . . read the full article here.