Saturday, March 04, 2023

Why are Republicans against supporting Ukraine?

When Russia first invaded Ukraine back in February 2022, pretty much the whole world was outraged (absent other autocratic countries like Iran and China, and whole host of smaller countries that are economically dependent on Russia and dare not criticize it publicly).

In America, both Republicans and Democrats expressed their outrage at Vladimir Putin's gross overreach, almost equally, despite the hangover of Donald Trump's ongoing bromance with Vlad (he managed to describe Putin "genius", "savvy" and "wonderful" in short order just after the invasion). Everyone seemed to be on board with helping poor downtrodden Ukraine in their existential fight against their overbearing neighbours. Oh, and that democracy thing.

One year later, hardly anyone (with the possible exception of Trump, but who listens to him any more?) would be caught publicly verbalizing admiration for Putin, who is now beyond the pale even for the American far right.

But there is increasing grumbling in the Republican ranks over the fact that the USA is still sending military aid east, to the tune of billions of dollars. This turnaround in attitudes actually started relatively early, with unsavoury characters like Republican Senator JD Vance announcing "I don't really care what happens to Ukraine", and then-Congresswoman Madison Cawthorne opining that "the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies", and of course, not to be outdone, Marjorie Taylor Greene calling the Ukrainians "neo-Nazis". Donald Trump Jr. dismissed Zelenskyy as an "ungrateful international welfare queen", and Tucker Carlson and Fox News predictably jumped all over this bandwagon.

Despite Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell declaring that "providing assistance for Ukrainians to defeat the Russians is the No. 1 priority for the United States right now", the idea of abandoning Ukraine and ceasing all American military support and involvement in its war is an increasingly acceptable point of view among Republican lawmakers, and also increasingly among the Republican voting public. A December 2022 poll found that, while 81% of Democrats were in favour of sending more military aid to Ukraine, only 48% of Republicans agreed (another poll found a similar 83% - 47% split). Interestingly, Republicans are now substantially less likely than Democrats to believe that the Ukraine war represents a threat to the USA.

As for why the Republicans have decided that enough is enough and that Ukraine should be cut loose to fight its own battles, that's not entirely clear to me. I think essentially it boils down to selfishness and America-First-ism, the perception that the US has its own problems and that its efforts should be direct there first (or exclusively). 

As Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy expressed it, with his usual gift for over-simplification, "I think people are going to be sitting in a recession, and they're not going to write a blank check to Ukraine". Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis also has also taken to referring to the current policy as a "blank check". GOP Representative Andrew Clyde calls Biden's policy "America Last". Marjorie Taylor Greene (her again!) says that President Biden "chose Ukraine over America", and that it was "insulting" for him to visit Kyiv. The people may be outliers, but they are influential and indicative of the way Republican thinking is going.

Republicanism and conservatism in general has always been a bastion of selfishness and self-absorption, and spending of any kind is frowned upon as a matter of principle. Giving billions to a country on the other side of the world is never going to be high on their list of priorities. "Doing the right thing" is not a big GOP principle.

Another element might be just knee-jerk hyper-partisanship. If the Democrats are all gung-ho pro-Ukraine and pro-military aid, then the Republicans, almost by definition, must be against that. (I kid you not - it is how these people think.) It is notable that several Republicans on the right of the party, like Josh Hawley and JD Vance, have explicitly identified China as the primary "threat" to America, and are keen to ramp up arms sales to Taiwan rather than send more military aid to Ukraine (note, though, that is "sales" not "aid").

Whatever the reasons, the GOP seems undeniably split on the issue. And maybe that's not a bad thing.

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