Last month, eight candidates gathered in Wisconsin for the first Republican presidential debate. During the session, the opponents shared their opinions on the state of the US economy, inflation, abortion, border security and immigration, and former President Donald Trump.
Foreign policy also plays an important role in the debate. During the session, the eight individuals competing for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination were pressed by US defense policy and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Their responses highlighted a division within the Republican Party.
In one corner was the old guard. These individuals believe in the importance of democratic institutions, rules-based laws and world order. During the debate, former Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie emphasized the importance of helping Ukraine.
“If [the U.S. does not] stand against [Russia’s] autocratic killing in the world, we will be next,” said Christie during the debate. “I went to Ukraine because I wanted to see for myself what Vladimir Putin’s army is doing to free Ukrainians.”
If the US gives Putin Ukraine, it “won’t be too long before he crosses a NATO border,” Pence added. “I want to let the Ukrainians fight and drive the Russians out.” Russian President Putin is a “dictator and a murderer and the United States of America must stand up against authoritarianism.”
“A victory for Russia [in Ukraine] a victory for China,” Haley said. “Ukraine is the first line of defense for us.” If Putin takes Ukraine, then “Poland and the Baltics are next. That’s a world war. [The U.S. is] trying to prevent war.”
The views expressed by these candidates are in line with many prominent Republicans in the House and Senate. In fact, a majority of Republicans in Congress support aid to Ukraine. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said the US should give the Ukrainians “what they need,” and that if we do so they will “win.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also praised this assistance. Ukraine’s success during the war “is due in large measure to the heroism of the brave Ukrainians who defended their homeland,” he said. “But [Ukraine’s] The success is also a credit to the visible support of the United States, NATO allies, and friends around the world who value both the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine’s attack.
Ultimately, most Republican voters want Ukraine to succeed. According to a Reagan Foundation poll conducted this summer, 71 percent of Republicans said “it is important to the United States that Ukraine wins the war.” Additionally, 50 percent of Republicans said they were “willing to do whatever it takes to help Ukraine win [the war].”
In short, the views of Haley, Pence and Christie on Ukraine are widely shared by prominent Republicans in Congress and by Republican voters.
But a new base within the GOP is skeptical or opposed to American aid to Ukraine. This is most evident during the August 23 debate. During the event, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy took this position.
“Ukraine is not a priority for the United States of America,” Ramaswamy said. “I don’t want to get to the point where [the U.S. is] sending our military resources overseas.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said US support for Ukraine “must depend on” Western European countries increasing their own contributions. More than that, he said, “I will not send troops to Ukraine, but I will send them to our southern border.”
Although not in the debate, President Donald Trump also falls within this dovish camp.
There are other Republicans who support this line of thinking. For example, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) famously said that the US should not “write a blank check to Ukraine.” McCarthy also reportedly wants to restore aid to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) introduced bills in the House to reduce aid to Ukraine. These attempts, however, did not gain traction, as most Republicans voted against their bills.
These opinions are also misinformed. First, there is a misconception that the US is simply shoveling money out of Ukraine’s door. This is not true. Throughout Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General has been thoroughly investigating aid to Ukraine. The process is difficult, but effective. According to senior Pentagon officials, there is no “evidence … that any of the billions of dollars in US aid sent to Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion was lost due to corruption.”
Second, critics of US aid to Ukraine claim that the process is expensive. But a report by the Center for European Policy Analysis put it best, saying it cost the US “peanuts” to defeat Russia in Ukraine. For example, the total defense budget in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023 is $816.7 billion. Of that, $46 billion was given to Ukraine, meaning that aid to Ukraine accounted for 5.6 percent of the total US defense budget in fiscal year 2023.
Partly through this help, the Ukrainians successfully defended their homeland by forcing the Russians out of northern Ukraine, and they claimed land in southern and eastern Ukraine. Moreover, the Russian military was completely defeated. This is a very worthwhile investment.
Finally, the Ukrainian people declared that they will do all the work on earth to protect their country. They are only asking for continued aid, not for US troops, and it is wrong to suggest otherwise.
Overall, although there is a split within the Republican Party on US aid to Ukraine, the majority of Republican voters continue to support US-Ukraine relations. It cannot be taken lightly.
Mark Temnycky is a accredited freelance journalist covers Eurasian affairs and a non-resident partner at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.