Republicans are turning against aid to Ukraine

By William A. Galston, Brookings, August 8, 2023

Every sustainable war rests on a foundation of political support. And as the war in Ukraine grinds through its second year, U.S. public support for continuing aid to Ukraine has fallen dramatically. A CNN survey released on August 4 found that a narrow majority (51%) of the electorate believes that the United States has already done enough to stop Russian military action in Ukraine, and only 45% would authorize additional funding to back Ukraine in the war.

Support for aid to Ukraine has narrowed as well as shrunk

A closer inspection of the findings reveals that support for aid to Ukraine has narrowed as well as shrunk. Sixty-two percent of Democrats back additional funding, compared to 44% of Independents and just 28% of Republicans. The ideological pattern is much the same: Additional funding is supported by 69% of liberals but only 44% of moderates and 31% of conservatives. Among age cohorts, voters ages 65 and older strongly support continued funding (58%), perhaps because of their formative experience during the Cold War, but Americans younger than 65 reject more funding. Only 39% of voters ages 50 to 64 support more funding, and 37% of those ages 35-49. (Support among voters under age 35 is somewhat higher — 46% — but well short of a majority.) College graduates are more supportive of additional aid than are those without college degrees, but in neither case does support achieve a majority.

The findings from another high-quality survey underscore the dramatic fall in Republican support for Ukraine. In the spring of 2022, according to the Pew Research Center, 34% of Republicans thought that the United States wasn’t doing enough to aid Ukraine, while only 17% thought that we were doing too much. By the summer of this year, the share of Republicans who believe that we are doing too much for Ukraine had nearly tripled to 44% while the share who believe we aren’t doing enough had fallen by more than half, to just 14%. Sustaining the current level of funding for Ukraine will be a very hard sell within the GOP.

Continued U.S. funding for Ukraine will not be easy

These findings suggest that winning the fight over continued funding for Ukraine will not be easy. After an agreement this spring between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy resolved the debt ceiling crisis, Senate Republican leaders stated that continued aid for Ukraine could be addressed through a supplemental appropriation outside the spending limits for defense set in the debt ceiling deal. McCarthy immediately rejected this proposal, declaring instead that Ukraine funding must come about through the regular appropriations process.

Since then, House Republican opposition to spending more for either domestic programs or defense has only hardened, and leading conservatives have called for spending levels even lower than those specified in the debt ceiling agreement. As the CNN survey makes clear, when it comes to Ukraine, opposition to more spending is not confined to the hard-right fringe but rather represents the views of 7 in 10 rank-and-file Republicans.

Optimists about continued aid for Ukraine have focused on the traditional strong-on-defense views of Republican Senate leaders and a handful of committee chairs in the House. It is time to pay equal attention to the contrary views of House Republicans, many of whom are subject to strong anti-spending pressures from their constituents — and to the effects of the likely Republican presidential nominee’s longstanding anti-Ukraine views. If McCarthy were to back a plan opposed by the majority of the House Republican caucus, it could cost him his speakership, which rests on the weakest of foundations.

What can be done

An arrangement to save a least a portion of current funding for Ukraine may still be possible. But the path to such a deal is obscure at best and allowing the matter to drift any longer could prove fatal for the prospects of continued U.S. funding, which is vital for sustaining Ukraine’s ability to resist. It is time for Ukraine’s supporters to sound the alarm and develop a plan that could pass the House as well as the Senate before the current aid package expires on September 30. Biden will have to get off the sidelines and make the case that helping to turn back the Russian invasion serves the vital interests of the United States.

The author

William A. Galston: Ezra K. Zilkha Chair and Senior Fellow - Governance Studies


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of CEMAS Board.