In one of the stranger moments of this strange vice presidential debate, Mike Pence and Tim Kaine puffed up their chests and grappled with one another over who can be more antagonistic to Russia and who can scare Vladimir Putin more. Though it was a close call, Pence won this Tough Guy competition by advocating the use of military force against Putin’s ally, Syria’s Bashar Assad, and even calling for the targeting of Russian military assets in Syria.

There were several layers of irony to this discussion. To begin with, Pence’s running mate, Donald Trump, has repeatedly called for a de-escalation of tension with Russia, resulting in repeated accusations that he is some sort of agent of the Kremlin – all while his vice presidential nominee tonight continually read from a stale Cold War script while ranting against Putin. Second, Democrats have spent the last several months building Putin into the Supreme World Villain while accusing all their domestic critics – by no means confined to Trump – of being covert agents (or stooges) of Moscow, leaving them with no basis to object to Pence’s crazed fear-mongering and militarism. Finally, while Pence’s most extreme statements were indeed alarming — including a path that could lead to military confrontation with Russia in Syria — the no-fly-zone and escalation proposals of Hillary Clinton and her all-but-certain Defense Secretary, Michele Flournoy, could easily lead to the same outcome.

All of this illustrates why the Democratic rhetoric this year on Russia is simultaneously so strange and so dangerous. It’s strange because they sound like some unholy mix of J. Edgar Hoover and Ronald Reagan (and Mike Pence). And it’s dangerous because it’s trained large numbers of Democrats to view Russia as a Grave Threat which must be confronted and never accommodated or treated as a partner (even while Barack Obama, from Syria to Ukraine, has repeatedly attempted to forge compromise with Putin).