The 2024 Republican presidential field has stepped somewhat uncertainly around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Former president Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have signaled that they’re not terribly interested in a robust level of support for Ukraine, but we haven’t seen a fully committed move in the Tucker Carlson direction.
Until now, that is. It looks like appeasement of Russia will be on the GOP debate stage relatively soon. And, as importantly, it’s not difficult to see that position catching on.
Upstart candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has in recent days sought to differentiate himself from his GOP opponents by embracing what he acknowledges would be “major concessions” to Russia. Basically, his idea is to end military support for Ukraine and negotiate a peace deal.
Under his proposed deal, Russia would agree to end its military alliance with China, withdraw nuclear weapons and systems from surrounding areas and rejoin the nonproliferation START accord. In exchange, the agreement would “cede most of the Donbas region” in eastern Ukraine to Russia, and it would end any efforts to have Ukraine join NATO.
Ramaswamy has called this “a Korean War-style armistice agreement that codifies the current lines of control.”
This is, of course, a highly speculative framework proposed by a novice political candidate with no foreign policy experience and little chance of victory. But given that Ramaswamy appears to have met the polling and donor thresholds to make the first GOP debate and could easily turn some conservative heads there, this kind of message could matter.
That is because there’s an audience for it, and because his Ukraine-skeptical major opponents could feel the pull of that position.
We’ve noted for a while that the Republican Party has gradually drifted away from supporting Ukraine. The numbers have stabilized over the past few months to the point where, generally speaking, about half of Republicans say that we’re doing too much to help Ukraine, while less than 1 in 5 say we’re doing too little.
The question from there becomes: How much less should we do? And what about giving Russia “major concessions” to bring things to an end?
The answer is that many Republicans would at least entertain those questions.
A January Gallup poll gave people a choice between supporting Ukraine in reclaiming territory from Russia even if it prolongs the war, and ending the conflict quickly even if it gave Russia territory. Fully 41 percent of Republicans chose the latter.
A previous poll from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs layered on top of that the idea that continued support would mean higher domestic gas and food prices in the United States. And in this case, even more Republicans were willing to cede territory to Russia to bring the war to an end. They chose that option 63 percent to 33 percent, nearly 2-to-1.
There is limited polling on this, of course, and the details of any negotiated peace deal would matter greatly. Ukrainians are overwhelmingly against territorial concessions, according to recent polls.
This comes at a time when the conservative movement has seemingly been easing up on its drift away from Ukraine. The Russia hawks in the party have begun summoning their voice since the anniversary of the invasion in February. DeSantis issued a statement to Carlson downplaying Russia’s invasion as a “territorial dispute,” then tempered his comments somewhat after getting pushback from high-ranking Republicans. Russia apologists also lost a nightly champion in April when Fox News fired Carlson, followed a week later by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) making his most significant pro-Ukraine-funding comments.
But lurking beneath the surface are the sensibilities that drew eyeballs to Carlson in the first place, made McCarthy cautious in the first place and seemingly drew DeSantis to use the “territorial dispute” language in the first place. (His statement, perhaps not coincidentally, was made in response to a request from Carlson.)
We’re also still waiting to get a real sense of DeSantis’s position. And we’re just a few months removed from learning that Trump floated territorial concessions during a Fox News interview, only to have Fox edit those remarks out. “At worst, I could’ve made a deal to take over something,” Trump reportedly said in the unaired clip. “There are certain areas that are Russian-speaking areas, frankly, but you could’ve worked a deal.”
It’s not difficult to see where having someone pushing this message on a debate stage could end up.
Source: Washington Post
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