Conservative Group Aims to Persuade Republicans to Support Ukraine

A new organization in Washington will spend $2 million in an advertising campaign aimed at shoring up Republican lawmakers’ support for Ukraine. The effort is being launched ahead of a spending fight in Congress that is likely to endanger continued U.S. funding for that country’s fight against a Russian invasion.

Republicans for Ukraine, a project of the larger organization Defending Democracy Together, is spearheaded by Republican pollster Sarah Longwell and conservative pundit Bill Kristol.

The campaign takes shape as support for continued U.S. aid to Ukraine is waning among all U.S. voters, but especially among conservative Republicans.

The group has solicited video testimonials from more than 50 Republican voters across the country, in which they outline their reasons for continuing to support U.S. aid to Ukraine. Republicans for Ukraine will use those videos in a series of advertisements directed at GOP voters and lawmakers, including commercials scheduled to air during the party’s first presidential primary debate next week.

Creating ‘permission structures’

John Conway, the director of strategy for Republicans for Ukraine, told VOA that support for democracy abroad has historically been a core value of the Republican Party, and that the aim of the group is to showcase the voices of GOP voters who still feel that way.

“We’re elevating the voices of real Republicans and conservatives who want the United States to continue to fight for Ukrainian democracy,” Conway said. “We’re going to use the testimonials of these Republicans and conservatives to counter a lot of the loudest voices in the Republican Party who are willing to let Ukraine democracy fall and are willing to appease [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, in his fight in Ukraine.”

Conway said that during the coming negotiations over spending bills, his group will target Republican lawmakers in a position to exert influence on decisions about aid to Ukraine. However, he said the group is also trying to create a “permission structure” that helps rank-and-file Republican voters to see that membership in the party and support for Ukraine are not mutually exclusive.

“Showing these messengers, people like themselves, creates these permission structures where it’s acceptable to be a member of the Republican Party — it might even be fine to be a Trump supporter and to have the MAGA hat — and to still support the United States’ efforts in Ukraine,” he said.

History of US support

U.S. support for Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022 has included military, financial and humanitarian assistance. Combined, that support has totaled more than $113 billion, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability.

Currently, the administration of President Joe Biden says that it has enough funds to continue supporting Ukraine at current levels for a few more months. Last week, Biden requested that Congress approve an additional $24 billion in order to maintain support into fiscal 2025, which begins in October.

When lawmakers return to Washington after their August recess, they will have until the end of September to agree on a broader spending bill or risk a government shutdown beginning as early as Oct. 1.

GOP lawmakers differ

Among prominent figures in the Republican Party, there are a wide range of positions on continued support for Ukraine. Former President Donald Trump, currently the front-runner for the party’s presidential nomination in 2024, refused to commit to supporting Ukraine in an interview in May. In the past, he has referred to Putin’s invasion as “genius.”

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently reaffirmed his support for Ukraine, calling the war there “the most important thing going on internationally right now” in an interview with Politico. Senator Lindsey Graham, a vocal advocate of Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, has also continued to voice support.

However, other Republicans in the Senate, such as Josh Hawley of Missouri and J.D. Vance of Ohio, have been openly skeptical of continued assistance.

In the House of Representatives, where Republicans have the majority, the number of GOP members opposed to continued funding for Ukraine is significant among the party’s base. That means that it will be difficult to pass a bill that includes more funding without extensive Democratic assistance.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said that he will not bring a supplemental Ukraine funding bill to the floor for a vote, meaning that any such funding could only find its way to the floor of the House if it is part of a larger spending bill.

Popular support fades

Popular support for providing aid to Ukraine was high and bipartisan in the early days of Russia’s invasion but has fallen as the war has dragged on and costs have mounted. Significant differences between Democrats and Republicans have also emerged.

A recent poll conducted by CNN and the research company SSRS found that 51% of Americans believe that the U.S. has done enough to support Ukraine, while 48% say it should do more. The same survey found that 55% believe Congress should not authorize additional funding for Ukraine, while 45% believe lawmakers should.

The results show significant differences depending on how respondents identified politically. Among those who identified as Republican, 59% said that the U.S. has done enough to support Ukraine, and 71% said that Congress should not authorize more funding.

Among Democrats, only 38% of respondents said that they believe the U.S. has already done enough, and the same percentage were in favor of cutting off funding.

Respondents who identified as politically independent were more likely to oppose continued support for Ukraine, with 56% saying the U.S. has already done enough and 55% in favor of blocking additional funding.

Attitudes seen as ‘malleable’

Despite public polling that shows a majority of Republicans believe the U.S. has already done enough for Ukraine and that funding should be cut off, Conway, of Republicans for Ukraine, says he believes there is an opportunity to change some minds.

“We think that public opinion is still a little bit malleable right now,” he said. “So we’re not ready to give up the fight. We think that there’s still a portion of the Republican Party — and a substantial one — that is receptive to this message. We’re going to do the hard work of bringing folks back to that kind of traditional Republican value of supporting democracy around the world.”