Trump-aligned America First' holdouts won't support GOP's backing of Ukraine

As Russia continues to bomb Ukraine, the far-right wing in the Republican Party is fighting the traditional majority.

Trump-aligned America First' holdouts won't support GOP's backing of Ukraine

They are a minority within their party and their country. Republican holdouts in an ever-widening consensus about the grave threat Russia's invasion of Ukraine poses to American interests.

The Republican Party's far right wing is tightly tied to Donald Trump and works to push the GOP towards the isolationism of "America First", which underpinned his 2016 presidential campaign.

His party is now pushing back for the first time since Trump's rise.

This was evident from Thursday's House vote on a bill to end normal trade relations between Russia and Ukraine as punishment for the attack on Ukraine. In voting for the Biden administration's ability to increase tariffs on Russia, which was rare in this era of intense polarization, 202 Republicans and 222 Democrats voted together.

Eight Republicans voted against it, including Trump loyalists such as Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia. Greene delivered a concise summary of the America First argument in a speech Thursday on the House Floor. This was despite growing sympathy for the suffering of the Ukrainians. After objecting to all the attention being paid to the war, Greene stated that the only thing that "real Americans care about" is gas prices. She also mentioned inflation and security at the southern border.

Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican, echoed that sentiment and explained her vote. "Congress keeps focus on distractions abroad, not our own challenges caused by Joe Biden at Home."

Boebert and Greene are both part of a loose group of conservative lawmakers, pundits, and foreign policy thinkers who see the war as secondary to the so-called pocketbook concerns that are important to families. Some of these conservatives argue that GOP leaders are returning to Bush-era neoconservative positions, which enmeshed America in "unwinnable" wars.

J.D. Vance, a Republican Senate Candidate in Ohio, spoke to NBC News.

He said, "Our voters don't want us to give up American blood and treasure in Ukraine." They want us to care for our own people first."

According to polling, the contrary is true. Surveys suggest that Americans are willing to make financial sacrifices in order to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty. Polls show that Americans are deeply involved in the coverage of the conflict and are inspired by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president who fought against the Russian siege.

This puts them in direct conflict with Rep. Madison Cawthorn, North Carolina, another America First-er who has gotten Trump's endorsement. Zelenskyy was called a "thug" by the 26-year-old congressman.

A YouGov/Economist poll earlier this month showed that the overwhelming majority of Republicans support sending weapons to Ukraine. Quinnipiac's latest poll showed that more than 2/3 of Republicans favor a ban on Russian oil imports. This is despite the fact that it could lead to higher domestic gas prices. The GOP voters treated Russian President Vladimir Putin with contempt.

An aide to the Republican Senate said that the war in Ukraine and the response of isolationist-leaning conservatives to it, was "showing some of the online rights to be kinda out of touch." He added that this conservative faction is "struggling with its message" in the face of Russia's unprovoked attack.

"I think it would be unpopular if it turned into a war with American lives at risk, but it would not be very popular," an aide stated. "But it is also clearly jarring to the average person, and people don’t want the U.S. just to play a passive role in this world."

The "America First" supporters are confident that Trump's foreign policy approach is sustainable and they have not lost heart. Steve Bannon, a former senior advisor to Trump, stated on his podcast that no Republican should vote for money for Ukraine...until we get a complete briefing and disclosure about exactly what the facts are.

Rachel Bovard is the policy director at Conservative Partnership Institute. She advocates limited U.S. involvement abroad and said that American Conservative magazine would host an "emergency conference" in Washington on March 31st to discuss Ukraine. She stated that there was a worrying "resurgence of neoconservative thought among Republicans."

In an interview, she stated that "America First's foreign policy has made a lot more inroads." She said that Establishment Republicans have "failed."

She said, "They're speaking to an entire generation that has watched them fail." She said that the U.S.-led wars against Iraq and Afghanistan both ended in failure, and now they are making the same argument regarding Ukraine to a skeptical audience.

Trump's America First credo wasn't so much a coherent doctrine of foreign policy as it was a useful slogan. Trump adopted a more isolationist view of American foreign policy thinking, starting with his 2016 campaign.

His allies suggested that Trump's unpredictable nature as commander-in-chief and good relations with autocratic leaders would deter foreign aggression. He threatened that America could leave NATO if member countries did not increase their defense spending.

These ideas resonated with Trump voters, who believed that the most immediate threat to America’s future was a porous border and trade agreements that would wipe out jobs.

His critics suggest that America First could become "Trump First". The most well-known example is perhaps Ukraine. Trump's 2019 impeachment was his attempt to persuade Zelenskyy, a domestic rival politician, to investigate Joe Biden. This at a time when Ukraine required weapons and support from the United States. (Trump was cleared by the Senate.

John Bolton, an ex-national security advisor under Trump, has been a vocal critic of Trump's policies on Ukraine. He said that Trump saw Ukraine through the lens of "How does Donald Trump benefit?" and not "What strategic threats do you face?"

Some nativists believe that America First is white Christians first. H.R. H.R. This view suggests that Putin was fighting for a Caucasian and Christian culture that he considered to be under threat.

Greene and Rep. Paul Gosar from Arizona spoke last month at the America First Political Action Conference. (Gosar addressed the white nationalist gathering in a prerecorded audio. Nicholas Fuentes is a white nationalist activist and organizer who, before introducing Greene to the crowd, called for support for Putin during the war with Ukraine. The crowd chanted, "Putin!" Putin!"

Both Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, both Republican legislative leaders from California, condemned Greene's and Gosar's attendance.

In practice, it is unclear what America First actually means. Newt Gingrich is a former Republican House speaker and has written "Understanding Trump" which describes the concept in vague terms. He stated that every policy discussion starts with the question "What's in America’s best interests?"

What are these interests? Who decides what they are? Experts argue that the survival of Ukraine is important to the U.S. An emboldened Russia could then take the war to NATO countries and start a conflict between nuclear-armed nations. This argument suggests that preventing a third world conflict by stopping Putin's invasion of Ukraine would be in America's best interests, or at least as important as cheap gas.

Daniel Fried, former U.S. Ambassador to Poland, stated that "when we stood with Europeans, there were three generations of peace, prosperity, and security in Europe." "That's being challenged."


 

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