To follow Donald Trump’s example has been a Republican legislative tradition for the last half-decade. But when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, GOP officials aren’t listening to Bush.
Putin’s demonization is a rare unifying factor on Capitol Hill. Few Republicans agree with Trump’s assessment of Putin’s wit and wisdom. No tolerance for “apologists for Putin,” warned former Vice President Mike Pence. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Putin should be killed.
The Republicans are now asking for every available resource short of US combat soldiers to assist halt the war in Europe.
According to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on “Face the Nation,” “the great majority of the Republican Party writ large is entirely behind the Ukrainians and asking the president to take these actions faster, bolder.”
I retain the classic post-WWII Republican perspective of American leadership in the world, while others who wanted to pursue a policy centered on retreating to believing that someone else would fill our position in the world if we didn’t, said Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt to CBS News. “And I believe that most Republicans, and honestly, most senators, have evolved to a more internationalist perspective of our obligations. And I’m pleased.”
There is typically a gap between party leaders and voters. In this case, though, party members appear to favor a harder approach on Russia.
According to a CBS News survey, 76 percent of Republicans support restricting Russia’s oil and gas (even if it implies higher gas costs), and 75 percent support sending arms and supplies to Ukraine.
Senate Trump ally Josh Hawley of Missouri said his people are outraged by the Russian incursion and urged him “we need to do all we can” to aid the Ukrainians.
“They are struggling for survival. And Russia has supported our enemies for 60 years. So I don’t feel guilty Because I know Putin is escalating. He’s invading a nation. So we should equip the Ukrainians and provide them with defensive weapons “I told CBS News.” “We must do all asymmetrically possible to aid Ukrainians. And we should do it for the long run.”
In 2019, Hawley joined all Senate Republicans except Mitt Romney in exonerating Trump for encouraging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to probe Joe Biden in exchange for military help. Then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stated Trump had done nothing impeachable in the chat with Zelenskyy.
McCarthy is now seeking to discourage members of his conference from disparaging Zelenskyy or endorsing Trump’s admiration for Putin. In a town hall, Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina called Zelenskyy a “thug.”
When challenged about the remarks last week, McCarthy said “Madison errs. Putin is a tyrant on this planet.” On the Russian bombardment of maternity units and child-friendly theatres, McCarthy said This is horrible, wrong, this is the aggressor, this ought to cease,” he added of Putin’s actions. “This is the one we should all support.” McCarthy indicated he would support Cawthorn’s re-election.
Republicans remain opposed to direct US military engagement in Ukraine, and there is no desire on Capitol Hill for a no-fly zone, reflecting the party’s move away from military confrontation abroad under Trump.
According to Colin Dueck, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who published a book on post-WWII Republican foreign policy, party voters still supported NATO and opposed Putin. He said the invasion reminded them of their ideas, and a hard line against Russia has emerged.
“Trump typically acts and others react…remarkable what’s today is that nobody appears to be deferring to him on this topic,” Dueck added. “It has its own momentum. And he had to catch up.”
Republican candidates on the campaign trail are finding that seeming to support Trump’s anti-Putin rhetoric is becoming a problem.
Former Governor Pat McCrory issued an ad accusing Trump-backed competitor Rep. Ted Budd of taking Russia-friendly votes and praising Putin. In the commercial, Budd calls Putin a “very intelligent actor.” The Club for Growth subsequently created an ad defending Budd and claiming McCrory misquoted him, including clips of him calling Putin “evil” and an “international gangster.”
Politifact says McCrory’s commercial omitted Budd’s complete quote: “Putin is a bad guy. But that doesn’t make him dumb. He’s a smart performer, but his attitude towards Ukraine has been inconsistent.”
However, Republicans are unwilling to condemn Trump for his prior conduct towards Putin. Instead, they say Trump’s policies trump his rhetoric when it comes to Putin.
“I’ve previously disagreed with Trump’s rhetoric on Putin. It wasn’t helpful. But in essence, the Trump administration’s Russia policies were far harder than the Biden administration’s “Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas informed CBS News that Trump authorized penalties on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
“Probably a lot of mistakes that we could look at if we took our time…
I realize Trump’s rhetoric is condemned. But I would say that when it came time to truly be strong, like sanctioning Nord Stream 2, he was there to do the right thing “When asked if he believed Obama underestimated Putin, Hawley told CBS News no. “But, hey, that’s in the past. Now we must consider our future actions.”