Even as the party appears to be turning away from further support for Ukraine, all but two of the eight Republican presidential candidates on the debate stage in Milwaukee on Wednesday night said they wanted to see continued aid to the embattled Eastern European nation.
The two, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, raised their hands when asked by moderator Bret Baier if they wanted aid to stop.
GOP front-runner Donald Trump skipped the debate for an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Trump has said he could negotiate an end to the war quickly, though, without laying out specifics of how he would accomplish that. He has also suggested no more aid be given to Ukraine unless federal agencies give Republicans in Congress evidence of wrongdoing by President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Ukraine’s defenders on Wednesday night said the issue is not only a strategic one but also a moral one. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Russian President Vladimir Putin is known for killing his domestic opponents.
“This guy is a murderer, and you are choosing a murderer,” she said, turning to Ramaswamy, who was at the lectern next to hers. The line drew cheers in the hall.
This guy is a murderer, and you are choosing a murderer.Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pointed out that the number of Ukrainian children Russian forces are accused of kidnapping and taking to Russia would more than fill the debate hall and cited reports of Russian troops using torture and rape as weapons of war.
He also used his time to attack Trump for supporting Putin. “This is the Vladimir Putin who Trump called brilliant and a genius. If we don’t stand up to this type of autocratic killing in the world, we will be next,” Christie said.
If Ukraine falls, former Vice President Mike Pence said, “it is not going to be too long before he rolls across a NATO border and, frankly, our men and women of our armed forces will have to fight him.”
Ramaswamy said he worried the war was driving Russia into a closer relationship with China, a fear that has been voiced by Trump as well.
“The Russia-China military alliance is the single greatest threat we face, and nobody in either political party is talking about it,” he said.
Citing Iraq and Vietnam, Ramaswamy said, “You cannot start another no-win war.”
DeSantis took a slightly different tack, saying he wanted to condition further aid on European allies of Ukraine contributing more to the effort.
“I will have Europe pull their weight. Right now, they’re not doing it,” he said.
A car on the central square of Ukrainian city of Chernihiv lies wrecked by a missile strike on Aug. 19.
The Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German think tank, estimates the U.S. has pledged about 71 billion euros ($77 billion in U.S. dollars) in military, financial and humanitarian aid, while multilateral European Union institutions have pledged about 35 billion euros ($38 billion) through the end of May. Individual European countries have also donated directly to Ukraine, such as with Germany’s 11 billion euro ($12 billion) contribution.
An early August CNN poll showed for the first time that a majority of Americans, 55%, do not want the U.S. to send additional funding to Ukraine. Perhaps more important for the GOP candidates, it also showed 71% of Republicans did not support further aid and 59% thought the U.S. had done enough already.
Though only one poll, it is clear that support for Ukraine has fallen sharply from the high levels seen right after Russia invaded Ukraine’s eastern and southeastern regions after taking over the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
The issue will be in the front burner politically soon, as President Joe Biden has asked for an additional $21 billion in aid as Ukraine’s counteroffensive has made steady, if very slow, progress in dislodging the Russians. The aid is likely to be an issue in negotiations between the White House and Congress over annual funding of the government.