Where Have Real Republicans Gone? Not to CPAC

Bob McConnell
March 11, 2024

Last weekend’s edition of The Wall Street Journal included the Molly Ball article set out below.  Among other things, it is a sad commentary on where so many are in understanding the world in which they live and the threats they face – here and abroad.  It is especially troubling how some Republican officeholders and candidates have bought into the tortured domestic misinformation so clearly aligned with Russian propaganda that has impregnated our news and discourse for years.

These opponents of support for Ukraine are not conservative and do not fit within the traditions, values, and decades of Republican accomplishments.  In truth, they are the Rhinos.

How Trump Turned Conservatives Against Helping Ukraine

GOP’s transformation is on full display at CPAC gathering: ‘The war is the fault of the U.S.’

The Journal here included a photo of Memorabilia on sale at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday. I chose to include instead a Michael Ramirez cartoon, which clearly depicts the supposedly Republican party presented by the CPAC attendees quoted here.  RAM

By Molly Ball

Feb. 23, 2024 5:00 am ET

FORT WASHINGTON, Md.—Billions in potential American aid to Ukraine is stuck in monthslong limbo on Capitol Hill, and to the Trump-loving partisans attending this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, that’s exactly as it should be.

“I don’t want any more funding for Ukraine. That’s very important to me,” said Sue Errera, a 70-year-old retired jeweler from Seneca, Pa. “We need to take care of ourselves first. I don’t agree with Putin, he’s definitely a dictator, but I don’t think he’s causing all the problems.”

Mark Weyermuller, a 63-year-old Chicagoan retired from the real-estate business, offered a similar assessment. “I don’t want to fund the war in Ukraine. The whole thing seems shady,” he said, adding a charge unsupported by evidence: “We don’t even know who the good guys and bad guys are, and we know Joe Biden’s getting paid off by Ukraine.”

It was a message that was echoed by the speeches on the conference stage. “Decide, Joe Biden, which country matters more to you: the border of the United States or the border of Ukraine,” said Rep. Byron Donalds, a Florida Republican whom former President Donald Trump recently said he was considering as a running mate.

“I haven’t voted for any money to go to Ukraine because I know they can’t win,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R., Ala.), one of 26 Republicans to vote against the aid package that passed the Senate on Feb. 13 after an all-night floor debate. “Donald Trump’ll stop it when he first gets in. He knows there’s no winning for Ukraine. He can work a deal with Putin.”

President Biden called on the GOP-led House to approve the foreign-aid bill and denounced Donald Trump’s comments that he would encourage Russia to invade U.S. allies that don’t contribute enough to NATO. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty

The annual right-wing confab at Maryland’s National Harbor outside Washington was a vivid illustration of the GOP base that has embraced Trump’s controversial stance toward Russia—and led congressional Republicans to move away from their once-solid support for military assistance to the beleaguered American ally. Prospects for the aid package, which also includes military assistance to Israel and Taiwan and humanitarian aid for Gaza, look shaky in the Republican-led House, which is out of session until the end of the month.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R., La.) has said the chamber won’t take up the Senate bill, which he acknowledges would likely pass if put on the House floor because most Democrats and many Republicans support it. But opposition from Trump and a growing share of the grassroots GOP base has made the issue toxic and divisive within the party. House Democrats are working to force the bill to the floor through a rarely used procedural gambit called a discharge petition, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

A group called Republicans for Ukraine this week launched a six-figure digital ad campaign in the districts of 10 House Republicans it hopes would support such an effort. A 60-second ad features rank and file GOP voters who argue that not doing so puts American national security at risk. The group’s executive director, the anti-Trump GOP consultant Sarah Longwell, said the ad aims to show that not all the party’s voters are in Trump’s camp on the issue.

“Trump’s always been in love with Putin, but now a big chunk of the Republican Party is as well,” Longwell lamented in an interview. “If you grew up with the Cold War as a backdrop, to watch what’s happening to the Republican Party right now is absolutely staggering. Ronald Reagan would be spinning in his grave.”

In recent weeks, Trump has declined to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Feb. 16 death of Alexei Navalny, instead comparing his own multifarious legal issues to the plight of the imprisoned opposition leader. He has said he wouldn’t defend NATO countries that don’t meet their financial commitments to the alliance but would instead encourage Russia “to do whatever the hell they want.” In a CNN town hall in May, he refused to say which side he hoped would win the war.

Trump’s remaining primary opponent, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, has harshly criticized his stance. “Trump is siding with a dictator who kills his political opponents,” she said at a recent campaign appearance in South Carolina. “Trump sided with an evil man over our allies who stood with us on 9/11. Think about what that told them.”

But Haley’s failure to get traction with that argument—she has yet to win a primary and is polling about 30 points behind Trump in her home state in advance of Saturday’s South Carolina primary—demonstrates that her hawkish views are a minority position in today’s GOP, which is broadly skeptical of foreign aid and unmoved by warnings that Western democracy is at stake.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who once held his GOP flock in near-unanimous accord, now finds himself in a similar position on an issue he has championed as crucial to his political legacy. “We haven’t equipped the brave people of Ukraine, Israel or Taiwan with lethal capabilities in order to win philanthropic accolades,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “We’re not urgently strengthening defenses in the Indo-Pacific because it feels good. We don’t wield American strength frivolously. We do it because it is in our own interest.”

Younger Republican senators led by J.D. Vance of Ohio, [It is astonishing that Vance could actually lead anything or anyone.  RAM] who was scheduled to speak at CPAC on Friday, reject that argument and instead embrace Trump’s America First views. Once-hawkish senators such as Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio followed Vance’s lead rather than joining McConnell on the foreign-aid vote.

In a December Wall Street Journal poll, 56% of Republicans said the U.S. was doing “too much” to help Ukraine, while 11% said it wasn’t doing enough. When the same question was asked in a Journal poll shortly after the war began, in March 2022, 6% of Republicans said America was doing too much for Ukraine, compared with 61% who said it wasn’t doing enough.

Trump’s relationship with Russia and its autocratic leader has long been controversial. During the 2016 campaign he implored Russia to hack and release Hillary Clinton’s emails, and U.S. intelligence agencies later concluded he benefited from Russian election interference. The early years of Trump’s administration were shadowed by Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s links to Russia, which he called a witch hunt and a hoax. In Helsinki in 2018, he stood beside Putin and declared that he trusted the Russian leader’s word over that of the American intelligence community.

In 2019, Trump was impeached for the first time for allegedly threatening to withhold military assistance from Ukraine unless it provided evidence of what he insisted were Biden’s corrupt activities there. House Republicans have continued to pursue those corruption allegations in an impeachment inquiry that suffered a severe blow when a key witness was accused of fabricating his claims on behalf of Russian intelligence.

Now, as Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine nears its second anniversary, the conflict is mired in a bitter stalemate, and President Volodymyr Zelensky says further aid is desperately needed. The Ukrainian city of Avdiivka recently fell to the Russians in what experts called a direct result of the ammunition shortage created by a lack of U.S. military aid. Ukrainian soldiers have reportedly been spotted scrolling American political news on their phones as they man the war’s front lines, tracking the congressional debate.

“There’s only one country in the world that can provide the military aid the Ukrainians desperately need right now, and that’s the United States of America,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who added, in contrast to claims that allies haven’t done their share, that European nations have provided far more assistance on a per capita basis. “It’s about American national security interests. If we allow this to continue because we’ve decided it’s not our problem anymore, Putin is going to continue to threaten our NATO allies for years down the road.”

At CPAC, numerous attendees said they had watched and been impressed by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s recent friendly interview with Putin, which prompted North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis to term Carlson a “useful idiot.”

“Putin in the Tucker interview was really eye-opening. We got to hear his side, his motives—he’s like a teacher,” said Kristin Bocanegra of Ashburn, Va., a 35-year-old staffer for a long-shot GOP Senate candidate. “We’re told by the media that Russia is really bad, but young people today are doing our own research, not just believing what we’re being told. I know Trump had good relations with him. This administration, it’s like, what happened?”

Many attendees argued that Putin was provoked by NATO’s push to add Ukraine to the alliance. “Mitch McConnell is not a real Republican. He needs to go. He’s too old, he’s compromised, he does not represent the ideology of most Republicans,” said Pat O’Brien of Fairfax, Va., a 67-year-old retiree. “The war is the fault of the U.S. We have no business encouraging Ukraine to join NATO. That’s what triggered this whole thing.” [A view proving a total lack of knowing history and, among other things, how countries seek to join NATO, but a firm grasp of Putin’s propaganda.  RAM]

The conference’s slogan this year is “Where Globalism Goes to Die,” yet it had an unusually global flavor, with main-stage speeches by Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, Argentine President Javier Milei, former U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss and the leader of Spain’s right-wing Vox party. Addressing the crowd Thursday evening, Bukele—a bitcoin enthusiast who was re-elected this month on a tough anti-gang platform—decried George Soros and the media and boasted of “defying the global elites.”

CPAC has held conferences in recent years in Hungary, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Brazil. The gathering kicked off Wednesday with its first-ever “international summit,” in which CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp introduced a resolution condemning “the police state tactics” of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Putin, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and President Biden.

Schlapp sat at a table flanked by Richard Grenell, Trump’s former acting director of national intelligence, whom he touted as a potential secretary of state in a future administration; and the former presidential adviser Steve Bannon, who has traveled the world stoking what he terms a “global populist nationalist movement.”

In a Feb. 14 interview on Russian state television, Putin said—in a statement that may or may not have been sincere—that he would prefer that Biden win this year’s election, calling him “more experienced, predictable, an old-school politician.” As the international summit concluded, Grenell emphasized that assessment.

“Remember,” he said, “Vladimir Putin wants Joe Biden to win.”


Co-Founder, U.S.-Ukraine Foundation

Director of External Affairs, Friends of Ukraine Network

The introduction and parenthetical comment are Mr. McConnell’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation or the FOUN