by Lincoln Institute | March 28, 2023

When political philosophy conflicts with political partisanship, which should prevail? Stated in the abstract, it seems simple: philosophy should. After all, isn’t philosophy a higher-minded basis for decision-making than partisanship? Yet in the case of continued military aid to Ukraine, the traditional positions of many members of Congress are curiously reversed. Partisanship is trumping philosophy, if you’ll excuse my use of the word “trumping.” Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Support for funding the military is typically stronger on the ideological right than on the left. The phrase that many Republicans and conservatives, including this one, embrace almost as an axiom of patriotism, is Ronald Reagan’s “Peace Through Strength.” Its close corollary is “Weakness is provocative.” Yet in the case of continued military aid to Ukraine, the tables are curiously turned, at least for some.

Until the Russian attack on Ukraine last year, most Republicans, with the notable exceptions of Rand Paul and his fellow libertarians, would be expected by most observers to be reliable supporters of most military funding and most military action. Democrats in the House who might be opposed if the request for military aid came from a Republican President fell unanimously in line with President Biden’s request. Newsweek put it this way: “Aid to Ukraine has been a rare bright spot of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill with Democrats and Republicans largely rallying around a call to help the nation as it faces Russian attack.”

But in both March and May of last year, 57 Republicans voted against two bills, one for roughly 14 billion and the other for roughly 40 billion dollars in both military and humanitarian aid. That’s considerably more than the libertarian contingent, and included such notable conservatives as Jim Jordan, Billy Long, Paul Gosar, Jody Hice, David Schweikert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, James Comer and Chip Roy. Had the funding requests come from a Republican President, I doubt that any of those would have sided with the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib as they did in those two cases. Anti-Ukraine funding Republicans should rethink their positions as American support for Ukraine’s war effort is once again before the Congress. Perhaps it doesn’t actually involve re-thinking. Their early votes may not have involved the thinking process at all. They simply wanted to vote against anything that this President of the opposite party proposed. That’s hardly an admirable position to take.

Florida Governor and likely Presidential candidate Ron DeSantis stumbled badly as he walked into this quicksand a week ago. He called the war between Russia and Ukraine a mere territorial dispute in which the United States need not take a side. In so doing, he aligned himself with the libertarians who reflexively shy away from foreign military entanglements that become bottomless pits for American taxpayers’ money. But that simplistic characterization does not apply to this conflict. This really is a proxy war in which Ukraine is our proxy against Russian encroachment into Europe and the Baltic states, and probably beyond, especially if it expands its alliance with China. It is therefore squarely in our national interest to support Ukraine.

It’s time for Congressional and Senatorial Republicans, along with Republican Presidential candidates, to reorient themselves to a true north defined by political philosophy and rise above petty partisanship. On the issue of providing support to Ukraine, President Biden is on the right side, even if slow and timid. Republicans should support Ukraine’s cause and should satisfy their desire to criticize Biden by limiting themselves to criticizing him for being slow and timid. That should be partisan enough to satisfy their political instincts, while returning to solid ground philosophically.