The most consequential battle in the fight to free Ukraine from Russian terror is now under way in Washington, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell emerging as a key combatant in the Western world’s fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This underscores the rift between the Republican Party’s increasingly ascendant right-wing – full of election deniers
, Christian nationalists and others willing to brand their opponents as demonic paedophiles
– and the unsettlingly quiet group of those who reject Putin’s world view.
McConnell put more distance between himself and his party’s right flank by calling on US President Joe Biden’s administration to expedite military aid to Ukraine
and pledging that Senate Republicans want to ensure “timely delivery of needed weapons”.
McConnell’s remarks came after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy gave an interview to Punchbowl News. He questioned the wisdom of providing a “blank check” to Ukraine while immigrants are reportedly crossing the US border with Mexico at a record pace and more economists are predicting an economic recession.
McCarthy’s argument doesn’t stand up. The border problem is largely a result of political gridlock that has blocked badly needed immigration reform
. It has been with us for decades, outlasting multiple US conflicts in the Middle East that were far less threatening to US interests than Putin’s onslaught.
Recessions come and go. The United States was barely out of the decade-long Great Depression when it was drawn into a world war that ultimately made it the world’s most powerful country.
The real reason McCarthy is voicing doubt about support for Ukraine
cannot yet be articulated without alienating a wide swathe of moderate voters. Putin is fighting a war in support of everything the Republican Party’s right-wing stands for: the end of the West’s decades-long push for inclusive and equitable democratic governance.
Many Republicans are in open revolt against democracy
, with some arguing the US was never even meant to be one. A September poll by Politico, for example, found that 61 per cent of Republicans believe the US should declare itself a Christian nation, compared with 17 per cent for Democrats.
Doug Mastriano, Pennsylvania’s Republican nominee for governor, and Dan Cox, Maryland’s Republican nominee for governor, are among the candidates pushing this position, which might not bring them victory in November but nonetheless appears to strengthen their base. The same goes for Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado, who argued in June that “the church is supposed to direct the government”.
But McConnell’s position shows us that the entire Republican Party isn’t yet on board with a tacit alliance with Putin, a scenario that could be as consequential a turning point for the war in Ukraine as was the counteroffensive
that has been pushing Russian forces backwards for several months.
It is difficult to accuse McConnell of having a soft spot for democratic values. After all, he is just as responsible as anyone for the loss of Americans’ constitutionally protected right to an abortion
With more than eight months before the 2016 general election, McConnell blocked then-president Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland
, after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. He argued that the choice should be decided by whomever would occupy the Oval Office in 2017.
That rationale vanished, of course, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away just several weeks before the 2020 election. McConnell moved at lightning speed
to get then-president Donald Trump’s nominee through.
What has prompted McConnell to draw a line in the sand after years of paving the way for Republicans to achieve their agenda? Certainly more than Donald Trump’s recent belittlement of his former transport secretary and McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao
, through a social media post referring to her as the senator’s “China loving wife, Coco Chow”.
Perhaps it was the emergence last week of Iranian drones
in Ukraine that Russia used to destroy power and water infrastructure as part of Putin’s plan to inflict as much pain as possible on Ukrainian civilians.
While many Republicans in open revolt against democracy would be happy to find some twisted rationale to let the Kremlin swallow Ukraine, Iran is a different matter. They have demonised Tehran as stridently as Beijing for many years, using any hint of accommodation for the Iranian government’s position by Democrats
as a line of attack.
Iran’s apparent cooperation with Russia’s military makes McCarthy’s position untenable. Whether US voters care enough remains to be seen. We know who Putin is cheering for.
Robert Delaney is the Post’s North America bureau chief