| 30 May 2024, Thursday |

Ukraine war becomes a cudgel in Republican Party’s internal conflict

The Ukrainian conflict has opened a new front in the Republican Party’s civil war in the United States, with party primary candidates vying to run in the November midterm elections attacking each other for previous comments praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Republican candidates in at least three states have been put on the defensive over comments describing Putin as intelligent, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as a “thug,” and Ukraine as unworthy of defense. They are now facing criticism at a time when public opinion in the United States strongly supports Ukraine and its president.

Pat McCrory, a leading Republican Senate candidate in North Carolina’s May 17 primary election, lashed out this week at his Trump-backed Republican rival, Representative Ted Budd, in his first TV ad.

“While Ukrainians bled and died … Congressman Budd excused their killer,” McCrory says in the ad, which is interspersed with video clips from a TV interview showing Budd describing Putin as “a very intelligent actor” with “strategic reasons” for the invasion.

The ad also accused Budd, who has described Putin as “evil,” of casting votes “friendly” to Russia.

Budd’s campaign dismissed the McCrory ad in a statement, saying, “Ted Budd presented the sort of level-headed assessment of a foreign crisis you would expect from a U.S. Senator because he knows these are serious times that require strength and substance, not the empty soundbites.”

Before Russian forces moved on Ukraine on Feb. 24, some Republicans felt comfortable echoing former President Donald Trump’s praise for Putin as a strong leader, while denouncing U.S. policy toward Moscow.

Even after the invasion, two Trump allies in the House – Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar – participated in a white nationalist conference at which participants applauded Russia’s move on Ukraine and chanted Putin’s name.

Infighting over Putin and Ukraine has exacerbated existing divisions within the party over Trump’s false claims of widespread election fraud in 2020, and a House investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by the former president’s supporters.

Trump has been widely criticized for describing Putin’s actions toward Ukraine as “genius” and “pretty savvy” in a Feb. 22 interview.

  • Reuters