Voices from the right break with GOP on Ukraine
Some U.S. conservatives in Congress and elsewhere resist support for the embattled nation
Members of both parties in the U.S. Congress have found common ground in the war in Ukraine, overwhelmingly approving measures to punish Russia for its invasion. But not everyone has joined the bipartisan effort.
On March 9, 15 Republicans and two Democrats voted against a ban on Russian oil imports. A week later, on March 17, eight Republicans voted against revoking Russia’s most favored nation trade status. Several of the lawmakers condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions but said they could not support legislation that might negatively affect the U.S. economy.
Others, including Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., have refused to take a hard line against Russia. Gosar joined GOP Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Matt Rosendale of Montana to reject a nonbinding resolution affirming Ukraine’s sovereignty. Rosendale and Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., have introduced legislation to stop sending aid to Ukraine until Washington funds more U.S.-Mexico border controls.
More examples of tepidity toward Ukraine in Congress: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., argued in a recent interview that the war only exists because the Obama administration provoked it years ago by installing the current Ukrainian government. She voted against a spending bill that provides $13.6 billion of humanitarian aid to Ukraine that she said could fund “neo-Nazis.” And she also, along with Gosar, participated in an “America First” rally in Orlando, Fla., in late February at which podcaster and livestream host Nicholas Fuentes led a crowd to chant “Putin! Putin! Putin!”
A few days later, Cawthorn called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug” who can’t be trusted, a response Russian state media circulated widely. Cawthorn has since qualified his position, saying, “The scenes coming from Ukraine are both jarring and heartbreaking. But emotion should never guide our foreign policy.” On Wednesday, Greene was asked at a town hall meeting if she agreed with Cawthorn’s assessment of corruption in the Zelenskyy administration and the Ukrainian government, and she answered, “Yes and yes. That’s an easy one.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said Cawthorn’s comment about Ukraine’s president was wrong, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky downplayed both him and Greene as a “few lonely voices” that do not represent the party. But some experts and activists see the lonely voices as a small but potentially influential minority.
Two days before the Feb. 24 invasion, Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, repeated a Kremlin argument that the tensions in Russia are a “family dispute” because Ukraine is actually a part of Russia. Since then, he has also argued that U.S. troops belong at the U.S. border, not Ukraine’s, that monetary support for Ukraine forces goes to Nazis, and that the real threat is not Putin but secret U.S.-backed labs in Ukraine that create biological weapons. In a podcast episode earlier this month, he called mass support for Ukraine “the Putin Variant,” an elitist tactic to induce mass hysteria and distract Americans from government overreach.
Kirk and Greene referred to the Azov Battalion in their claims of funding neo-Nazis in Ukraine. The group, listed as a terrorist organization, was founded in 2014 by white supremacists who appealed to extreme right-wing followers. Since then, Azov leaders have left the group to launch failed bids for legislative power, and its ranks have dwindled from more than 2,500 to around 900. The battalion has been fighting in the Donbas region of Ukraine, which Russian separatists have tried to annex. The Ukrainian government has not endorsed the group, and it is unclear whether it has access to any aid funding.
U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance, author of the popular memoir Hillbilly Elegy, echoed Kirk’s opinion that the war in Ukraine does not warrant the expense of U.S. aid and military support. “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another. I’m sick of Joe Biden focusing on the border of a country I don’t care about while he lets the border of his own country become a total war zone,” Vance said in a podcast interview with Steve Bannon.
An AP-NORC poll this week found 56 percent of Americans — both Republicans and Democrats — think Biden needs to be tougher on Russia. Nine percent of Republican respondents said his response against Russia has been too harsh. Only 2 percent of Republicans in the poll expressed confidence in the president’s ability to handle a crisis effectively.
Former New York Post op-ed editor Sohrab Ahmari uses the term the “New Right” to describe those who line up against what they see as a ruling class of mainstream thinkers on both the right and left. On Ukraine, Ahmari wrote for The American Conservative that Russia’s invasion is bad, but “our pundits and policymakers offer … trembling emotion, cheap propaganda, wild fantasies, a refusal to dialogue and de-escalate.”
On Tuesday, Ahmari kickstarted a self-described “radical American journal,” Compact magazine. On the same day, author and columnist Lee Smith also said the government cracked down on skepticism of COVID-19 and the presidential election, arguing this has translated to a crackdown on dissenting voices about the Ukrainian “propaganda ploy.”
Michael Sobolik, fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, has studied the New Right’s interest in the Chinese Communist Party and noticed similar reactions to Putin.
“The New Right adherents tend to see themselves as more counter-revolutionary than as conservatives,” he told WORLD. “They are looking abroad increasingly for inspiration for how to engage within the American system. Thinkers like Ahmari have openly praised the Chinese Communist Party for what they consider to be socially conservative policies.”
While Sobolik sympathizes with the desire not to get drawn into a crusade-like war mentality, he sees authoritarian leanings in the New Right’s ideology that concern him: “There is this very strange instinct to defend what Putin is doing as Russia’s national interest that has nothing to do with us. And there seems to be this weird belief that the very fact that a foreign government has a national interest means that by definition, it’s valid.”