Opinion by Adam Kinzinger
(CNN) — Editor’s note: Adam Kinzinger is a CNN senior political commentator and a former Republican congressman from Illinois. He served 10 years on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Kinzinger is also a lieutenant colonel and pilot in the Air National Guard. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.
Now, a majority of Americans — and a more sizable number of Republicans — want to abandon the fight, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS. It’s a bad idea that’s gathering steam at the worst moment and marks a low point for the party of Reagan.
In the CNN poll published Friday, 55% of all respondents said that Congress should stop authorizing new military aid for Kyiv. Worse, from my perspective, is the shameful fact that Republicans are far more likely to favor an end to aid than Democrats.
The survey found that 71% of Republicans told pollsters Congress should stop sending more assistance. Among Democrats, 62% favor more funding for Ukraine.
From where I stand, the poll’s findings reveal that many in my party would turn their backs on friends who are risking their lives in a fight for democracy. They would do so just when Ukrainians are beginning to push the Russians out of the areas they occupied early in the war. Little could be more demoralizing for an army and a country that has fought so valiantly for nearly 18 months and depends on US aid.
Two factors seem to be at play here. The first is the slow progress Ukraine is making on the battlefield. Hopes that Kyiv’s summer counteroffensive would see its forces taking back huge swaths of territory have crashed against the reality of Russian fortifications. Instead of “shock and awe,” we’re seeing the trench warfare of World War I.
The second factor driving Republican sentiment could be called “the Trump effect.” Now campaigning to return to the White House, the former president so dominates the party’s consciousness that his doubts about Ukraine aid have had an enormous effect on Republicans as a whole.
Before Donald Trump, Republicans were not the type to abandon a fight for a strategic partner’s democracy, handing a potential victory to Russian President Vladimir Putin. We were the warriors of the Cold War who brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union.
With Trump, who has embraced Putin, some Republicans are learning to let go of America’s role as the bulwark of democracy and freedom. These Republicans are choosing, instead, the tragic isolationism of those who opposed joining the fight against Hitler. Back then, radio priest Charles Coughlin had a powerful voice among do-nothings. Today, they find comfort on Fox News.
Trump has framed his position in a way that is typical of his petty approach to policy. He said he would threaten to halt war funding to get documents from the federal investigation into the business dealings of President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. The US should “refuse to authorize a single additional shipment of our depleted weapons stockpiles,” Trump said last month, until “the FBI, DOJ and IRS hand over” evidence in congressional Republicans’ Biden family investigation. He also has said the US should prioritize school safety over Ukraine aid.
The idea that, somehow, school safety and Hunter Biden should have anything to do with helping Ukraine is, on the surface, absurd. But in making these statements, the former president pressed on two hot-button issues that would make his followers take notice.
From my conservative Republican point of view, I find it remarkable that, as the CNN poll shows, Democrats are standing firmly behind Ukraine. It reflects a longer-term trend of the left becoming more comfortable with America’s military.
In 2022, Dominic Tierney, a political science professor at Swarthmore College, noted in The Atlantic that during the Trump administration, Democrats adopted a more favorable view of the military because it stood with the rule of law and tradition. Tierney’s argument is speculative, but I tend to agree with him.
Certainly, the CNN poll suggests a measurable level of Democratic support for military solutions to geopolitical crises.
As a former member of Congress who focused on US obligations abroad, and an Air National Guard pilot who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have seen how America helps stabilize the world in a way isolationists don’t appreciate.
Through treaties, foreign aid and trade, we help others develop solid and prosperous societies. Our direct military aid was especially vital in Afghanistan, where, in our absence, the repressive Taliban have returned to power. Our withdrawal was bad for the people of Afghanistan and for the world.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s chief rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, said in March that America has no vital interest in Ukraine and called the war a “territorial dispute.” DeSantis walked back the comments about the territorial dispute, but as I see it, GOP voters understand he’s skeptical about funding the war.
This position may spare him the boos that another Trump rival, former Vice President Mike Pence, received last month when he told a conservative gathering in Iowa he supported helping Ukraine. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was in Kyiv on Friday, where he showed his support for the fight. However, it’s unclear if anyone may be listening to him.
Official opposition to Ukraine aid is most significant in Congress, which does play a role in what happens to the flow of assistance. In July, 70 House Republicans voted to cut off Kyiv entirely. This number is not enough to change things yet, but the opponents come from the party’s extreme right wing, which plays an outsize role in primaries. This power means candidates are being pressured to join the anti-aid crowd.
With the rank and file of my party losing faith in the fight for democracy, I see yet another example of how the conservatism I once knew, and that America relied on, is disappearing.
Gone is the party of Reagan, which was steadfast in its stand against tyranny. In its place is rising a GOP that seems immune to the world’s need for American leadership and uninterested in the suffering of a country we should aid until the fight is over.
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