When it comes to the situation in Ukraine, President Biden is working with European allies to figure out how to best position themselves against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, Republicans trying to put together a response to this are all over the place, split between former president Donald Trump’s foreign policy and the one the GOP espoused in the year before his election as president.
Indeed, Fox News has been a particularly interesting place for often contradictory takes about what Biden is doing wrong with Ukraine.
One minute, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is on explaining that Biden really should have imposed all sanctions by now, or at least spelled them out, in order to deter Putin from invading. The next, a general comes on to say that if sanctions were imposed in advance of Putin taking over Ukraine, then Putin might as well do it.
Then there is the prime time contrast, with host Tucker Carlson recently telling his audience that anything that happens in Ukraine is not of concern to Americans: “It may be worth asking yourself, why do I hate Putin?” Carlson is followed by Sean Hannity who argues that Putin’s aggression is driven by American weakness, and repeats with nearly every guest that America needs to be more energy independent in order to outmaneuver Putin and help Europe.
But the real action is in Republican primaries around the country. In the Ohio Senate Republican primary, the split is especially apparent. One candidate, Jane Timken, offers a more traditional Republican response about the need for America to stand up for a sovereign nation against Putin, while her opponent, J.D. Vance, said on Twitter that he doesn’t care what happens in Ukraine.
The lack of Republican cohesion to the biggest foreign policy crisis in awhile is because of Donald Trump. His style of “America First” foreign policy was isolationist and ran in direct contrast to the Ronald Reagan model of a strong interventionist that was in vogue all the way through Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, when he argued for firmly addressing the threat from Putin’s Russia.
But beyond theory there are, obviously, some particulars about Ukraine that really make this situation troublesome for Republicans because of Trump.
For example, while the details of Trump’s first impeachment might have flown over the heads of many Americans, the gravity of it all is much easier to understand given what is happening now. After all, Trump was impeached for withholding Congressionally authorized funds to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia because he was upset its government didn’t investigate the Biden family.
To those who defended Trump and said this was just normal politics and the threat wasn’t real, well, look where we are at now.
Then there was Trump, just this week on a conservative radio show, actually praising Putin for the “savvy” moves he was making before what appears to be a bold attempt to remake the map in Europe in a way that threatens American allies.
Indeed, Republicans are now trying to figure out how to walk the line of being supportive of American allies while not disagreeing with Trump, the leader of their party and odds-on favorite to be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee.
As the situation continues to escalate overseas, it’s unlikely this rift will go away for Republicans. It could easily be one of the top three issues discussed in the midterm elections and be as definitive in Republican primaries as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal have been in Democratic primaries for the last four years.
Republicans may counter that this election is entirely about being against Biden, and that might be right. But the Ukraine episode highlights that the Republican Party doesn’t know what it is for, exactly.