GOP attacks on Biden’s Ukraine visit are worse than partisanship — they really want Russia to win

To most people, both at home and abroad, the purpose of President Joe Biden’s recent trip to Ukraine is not mysterious: The United States would like the nation to prevail in its war against Russia’s invading army, and this show of support is valuable for moralizing Ukraine’s supporters while demoralizing Russian President Vladimir Putin. Far-right Republicans, on the other hand, tied themselves into knots in trying to diss Biden without coming right out and saying they want Ukraine to lose. 

Some, like the American Nazi supporters of WWII, tried to package their stance as mere isolationism. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, for instance, exploited the Ohio train wreck catastrophe to argue “Biden is ditching America for Ukraine.” Others, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, went full incoherence, raving, “[I]t’s becoming more like a U.S.- China war through the Ukraine — Russia war.” And some went for puerile race-baiting, such as Rep. Greg Murphy yelling about “the war zone [Biden] created at our southern border.” (In reality, the refugee crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border was created by Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies that Biden has been prevented from fixing by the GOP-controlled Supreme Court.) 

There’s a deeper reason why so many Republicans are going out of their way to undermine American support for Ukraine.

Perhaps the biggest show of pretzel logic came courtesy of Florida’s GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, who tried to leverage the past year’s successes against Russia as evidence that the U.S. should drop the support for Ukraine. “I think they’ve shown themselves to be a third-rate military power,” he said of Russia on Fox News, as if that justified rolling over and letting Putin take Ukraine. 

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There’s a temptation to see this rhetoric as mindless partisanship, as nothing more than a reflexive right-wing tendency to dismiss everything Biden says or does as wrong. That’s certainly how former GOP congressman and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough reacted, arguing, “They hate the American president so much that they’re willing to provide aid and comfort to the Russian cause.”

But the “Morning Joe” host has it backward.

Sure, these people would oppose puppies and rainbows if Biden said he liked those things, but there’s a deeper reason why so many Republicans are going out of their way to undermine American support for Ukraine. It’s because they agree with Putin’s anti-democracy cause and share his hopes that defeating Ukraine will demoralize pro-democracy forces around the world. 

Putin is a living reminder of the dangers of putting a nation’s fate in the hands of a power-mad sociopath — and how it can come back to haunt even his supporters.

So it’s probably a good thing that so few MAGA Republicans — including Trump himself — feel comfortable expressing direct support for Putin and direct opposition to Ukraine. It means it’s still taboo, even in the GOP ranks, to be proudly fascist, much less openly supportive of war crimes. The pretense that MAGA Republicans believe in democracy is still being maintained, even as it’s obvious that they would prefer to get to the part of the story where president-for-life Donald Trump cancels all future elections. 

Indeed, I’m sure many of them don’t exactly love Putin. He is increasingly unhinged and shows contempt for the lives of his own people, which is bad messaging for the authoritarian cause. The underlying premise of MAGA Republicanism is that abandoning democracy in favor of a Trumpian autocracy will be beneficial for their tribe of white conservative Christians, even as it crushes everyone else under the boot. Putin, however, is a living reminder of the dangers of putting a nation’s fates in the hands of a power-mad sociopath — and how it can come back to haunt even his supporters. That’s why the MAGA media prefers to prop up Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán as their authoritarian role model. That way they can pretend it’s just about limiting immigration and destroying higher education while ignoring the parts involving child murder and genocide. 

But as DeSantis’ dissembling shows, the Trumpist Republicans are now in a rhetorical tough spot, even within their own party. Major GOP leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have not only openly supported Ukraine, but have called on the U.S. to spend even more on military aid to the country. It’s not because they have some great love of democracy. It’s because Putin’s aggression is destabilizing the very world order that made them rich and powerful. They may not love power-sharing with Democrats, but they fear more what unleashing someone like Putin even further would do to their own political futures. 

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That’s where the GOP establishment differs from isolationist anti-Ukraine Republicans, who also happen to be the ones who make the most excuses for the January 6 insurrection. For the hardcore MAGA Republicans, this fight is ideological. They’re not worried about global stability, so much as advancing the anti-democratic cause. I suspect most of them dislike Ukraine for the same reason the country’s independence got under Putin’s skin: Because its existence cuts across their cynical arguments against democracy.

Like Putin, the MAGA movement knows better than to argue against democracy on moral grounds. Instead, the argument is one grounded in performative cynicism. “Gosh, democracy sounds nice on paper,” goes the reasoning, “but, in practice, it just can’t work.” Opponents of democracy will portray democracies as hopelessly corrupt or pathetically weak. That’s why, for instance, they are so dependent on the Big Lie, which has become an all-purpose tool to portray democracy in a bad light. It’s also why Trumpists will toggle back and forth between portraying Biden as an evil mastermind who stole the election, and then arguing the man is too sleepy to handle basic leadership duties. It may be contradictory and nonsensical, but it’s about framing authoritarianism as a necessary evil, and democracy as a pipe dream. 

If Ukraine wins this, though, it undermines this nihilistic view and gives democracy proponents worldwide a shot of morale. So even if MAGA Republicans were indifferent to the nation prior to this invasion, now that it’s become an international symbol, they are rooting for Ukraine’s failure. Indeed, Fox News isn’t even trying to make its anti-Ukraine rhetoric make sense. Tucker Carlson had Tara Reade — whose only claim to fame is a sexual assault allegation against Biden that was shown to strongly conflict with real world, and even basic geographic, evidence — to unspool wild conspiracy theories on Putin’s behalf. 

Reade is not a foreign policy expert or expert on anything, really. But she was willing to spew gibberish to undermine the Ukranian cause, and that’s all that matters to the unsubtle fascist propagandists at Fox News. The kitchen sink approach to the anti-Ukraine rhetoric really gives the game away. There’s no principled, much less coherent, rationale. They’re just throwing a bunch of spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. It’s the rhetorical strategy of people who know they can’t offer their real reasoning, so instead they flood the zone with noise to confuse people about what it is we’re even trying to talk about here. 

The reason MAGA Republicans won’t say what they’re actually thinking is because they want the U.S. to pull support from Ukraine. They want Ukraine to lose. And they want Ukraine to lose because a Ukrainian success would be a boost to democratic sentiment worldwide. That would harm the war on democracy the Trumpists are waging at home. It’s really no more complicated than that, no matter how many random talking points they generate by the hour. 


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