The central question looming over the 2022 midterm elections is whether the Republican Party is morphing into a fascistic organization that wants to end the messy business of elections, voting, and democracy and create a right-wing autocracy instead. Ever since Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, culminating in the January 6 insurrection and followed by Republican efforts to downplay the coup attempt, it has become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the Republican mainstream and the party’s extremist fringe.
If the Republicans prevail and gain control of Congress, one of the first tests of their true intentions will come when they must decide whether to support continued U.S. military aid to Ukraine in its defense against this year’s brutal Russian invasion.
In a Republican-controlled Congress, votes on aid to Ukraine are likely to reveal a sharp divide between traditional, hawkish Republicans who oppose the Russian invasion and have supported the Biden administration’s military aid to Ukraine, and the new and growing faction of the Christian evangelical movement known as Christian nationalists, many of whom admire Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and want to cut off American support for Ukraine. Votes on Ukraine will serve as a barometer of whether traditional Republicans still have any influence, and whether they have the will to stand up to the rise of extremism within their ranks.
Christian nationalists represent a frightening dynamic within the Republican Party. They are theocrats who don’t believe in the separation of church and state and who argue that the United States was founded as a “Christian” nation and needs to return to those origins. They despise Western secularist culture; fear white demographic decline; and deeply resent feminism, homosexuality, abortion rights, and even individualism, which they see as a modern concept at odds with a more traditional, hierarchal society.
Christian nationalists now dominate the extreme right of the Republican Party, and they have come to believe that Putin is a warrior for Christian fundamentalism and that his invasion of Ukraine is one step in his campaign to crush the global woke left.
The intra-party fight over aid to Ukraine could be the first battle in a long war for control over the Republican Party’s foreign policy.
Christian nationalists see Putin as the leader in a powerful right-wing counterattack against liberal secularism and as a protector of their Christian faith. Putin has encouraged this support from Christian nationalists in the United States and other Western nations by co-opting the Russian Orthodox Church and waging a culture war inside Russia, notably with anti-gay and other supposedly “pro-family” measures.
Now, many in the Christian nationalist wing of the Republican Party openly want Putin to crush Ukraine’s pro-Western government and win the war. They willingly accept Russian disinformation and often parrot Moscow’s lies about Ukraine.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is one of the loudest voices of Christian nationalism in Congress, and one of the few who doesn’t shy away from the term in public. Earlier this year, she spoke at an event held by a white nationalist group where many in the crowd chanted, “Putin! Putin!”
Last week, Greene told a rally in Iowa that Congress would cut off funding for Ukraine if Republicans gain control. “Under Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, Wendy Rogers, an Arizona state senator, tweeted in February that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was a “globalist puppet for Soros and the Clintons.”
Zelensky is a globalist puppet for Soros and the Clintons.— Wendy Rogers (@WendyRogersAZ) February 27, 2022
Throughout this year’s campaign, a number of Republican congressional candidates have expressed opposition to continued military support for Ukraine as a kind of political dog whistle to Christian nationalists, signaling that they are on their side without openly advocating for Putin’s victory in Ukraine.
“I gotta be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other,” J.D. Vance, a Republican candidate for Senate in Ohio, said earlier this year. (He later dialed that back, saying, “Vladimir Putin is the bad guy in this situation,” while claiming that “we cannot fund a long-term military conflict that I think ultimately has diminishing returns for our own country.”)
Former President Donald Trump now recognizes the growing power of the Christian nationalist wing of the Republican Party and has been using pro-Putin, anti-Ukraine rhetoric at his rallies and elsewhere. He’s claimed that Putin has been “smart” in his invasion of Ukraine.
“So Putin is now saying it’s independent, a large section of Ukraine. I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s the strongest peace force,” Trump said.
Along with Trump, Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson has also been using pro-Putin, anti-Ukraine talking points, providing a platform for Russian disinformation during the U.S. election campaign. A feedback loop has developed between Carlson and Putin: Carlson will parrot Russian propaganda on Fox News, and then government-controlled Russian television will show that Carlson has repeated those lies.
Republican congressional leaders, trying to hold together their fragile coalition of traditional Republicans and Christian evangelicals, have not been forthcoming about why so many of their candidates now oppose aid to Ukraine. They don’t want to talk about the rising power of Christian nationalism within the Republican Party.
Instead, they suggest that the opposition to continued aid for Ukraine stems from growing American isolationism, budgetary constraints, and the possibility of a recession next year.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has argued that aid to Ukraine will be slashed in a Republican-controlled House because the government can’t afford to spend billions of dollars on it when there are so many economic problems at home. He said in a recent interview that “I think people are going to be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They just won’t do it. … It’s not a free blank check. And then there’s the things [the Biden administration] is not doing domestically. Not doing the border and people begin to weigh that.”
Representing the hawkish, traditional wing of the Republican Party, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly sought to counter McCarthy’s warning about cutting off aid to Ukraine by insisting that a Republican-controlled Senate would actually demand even more military support for Ukraine than the Biden administration has provided. He said a Republican Senate would seek to ensure the “timely delivery of needed weapons and greater allied assistance to Ukraine.”
The debate over Ukraine between McCarthy and McConnell will likely lead to a series of bitter fights in the House and Senate, with the White House caught between them.
The intra-party fight over aid to Ukraine could be the first battle in a long war for control over the Republican Party’s foreign policy. It could also help determine whether anything will stop the Republican Party’s descent into fascism.
It is clear which side Moscow is supporting. In a recent tweet, Julia Davis, who runs the Russian Media Monitor, linked to a video of Russian state television explaining why “they’re rooting for MAGA Republicans in the midterms.”
This content originally appeared on The Intercept and was authored by James Risen.