A conservative group’s new advertising campaign, slated to air during the first 2024 Republican presidential primary debate, is aiming to sway GOP voters and officials to support U.S. aid for Ukraine in the country’s ongoing war with Russia.
The debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Aug. 23 on Fox News, with the outlet’s Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum picked to host.
Given the growing split among Americans, especially Republicans, over funding for the U.S. ally, the $2 million “Republicans for Ukraine” project by the conservative nonprofit Defending Democracy Together is hoping to shift the narrative while eyes are on the GOP candidates in their first presidential primary face off.
“We want to counter the loudest voices in the Republican party who are telling Americans, telling Republicans, that the United States needs to withdrawal its efforts in Ukraine,” John Conway, the director of strategy for Republicans for Ukraine, told Military Times. “We want to remind Republican voters of the best of their traditional Republican values, which is supporting democracies across the globe.”
In addition to getting featured on billboards throughout Milwaukee, the campaign plans to run ads on cable, network TV and on YouTube through the end of the year.
The U.S. has sent more than $43 billion in aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022, the AP reported. President Joe Biden asked Congress earlier this month to approve a package that includes more than $13 billion in emergency defense aid to Ukraine, the outlet also reported.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Aug. 22 that the administration believes that financial support to Ukraine will be sustained by a bipartisan core of lawmakers, despite “some dissident voices.”
Last week, the Department of Defense unveiled a $200 million security package for Ukraine that includes additional air defense munitions, artillery and tank ammunition and anti-armor weapons among other equipment.
“This particular administration has not made the argument for Ukraine,” retired Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told Military Times in an interview, noting that political leaders on both sides of the aisle need to do more to educate average Americans about the need to support Ukraine.
“They really have no idea about all the things that Ukraine brings to this world and why it’s important that we not allow a superpower or former superpower...to run over their neighbors,” he said, citing, for example, the amount of grain Ukraine provides the rest of the world.
A recent CNN poll found that a majority of Americans (55%) oppose Congress authorizing additional funding for Ukraine in its war with Russia. Republicans in the survey broadly said that Congress should not authorize new funding, with Democrats mostly saying the opposite.
Those partisan divisions were further highlighted by another poll by the Pew Research Center, which in June found that around four-in-ten Republicans say the U.S. is providing too much aid to Ukraine.
While the question over how the United States should respond to the conflict in Ukraine continues to fracture the Republican party, candidates seeking the GOP nomination to become the next commander in chief similarly possess a wide array of views on a preferred strategy.
Former President Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump said Aug. 20 he will not attend the debate, the AP reported. The GOP frontrunner, Trump did not say during a CNN townhall in May whether he wanted Russia or Ukraine to “win” the war but said that if president he could end the conflict within “24 hours.” He contended the European Union needed to contribute more money to Ukraine.
Former Vice President Mike Pence
One of only a few candidates to have visited Ukraine since the war began, the former vice president has diverted from his former boss and denounced Russia’s actions against Ukraine.
“I believe the United States of America needs to continue to provide the courageous soldiers in Ukraine with the resources they need to repel that Russian invasion and restore their territorial integrity,” Pence said in June during a CNN town hall, adding he believes the Biden administration has been slow in providing military resources to Ukraine.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott
The senator, who has supported aiding Ukraine since early in the conflict, told NBC News in May that “President Biden has done a terrible job explaining and articulating to the American people” the United States’ interests in assisting its ally against Russia. He argued that American involvement in Ukraine is necessary to weaken the Russian military and reduce attacks on both the U.S. and on NATO partners.
American entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy
Ramaswamy has said he does not see aiding Ukraine against Russia as a top priority, rather that he sees Russia’s alliance with China as America’s primary military threat.
He told ABC News in June that he would like to end the war by offering concessions to Russia, including a commitment to prohibit Ukraine from entering NATO.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley
The former UN ambassador and former governor of South Carolina has made the case for supporting Ukraine, without putting American troops on the ground. She has also said she supports giving cluster munitions to Ukraine.
“This is bigger than Ukraine. This is a war about freedom and it’s one we have to win,” she said in June during a CNN town hall, noting that a Ukrainian victory sends a message to other countries that threaten U.S. interests and helps prevent further warfare.
Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis
DeSantis previously described Russia’s war in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute,” but after criticism from several Republicans, he later walked back his remarks in an interview with British broadcaster Piers Morgan, commenting that his wording was “mischaracterized.” He went on to describe Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal.”
The governor has since said it is in everybody’s interest to have a ceasefire, the outlet Nikkei Asia reported.
Former Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie
Another of the few candidates to have visited Ukraine since the start of the war, the former governor has voiced his support for Ukraine, calling it a proxy war with China.
“This is something that America stands up against and those folks deserve and have earned our support,” he said at a New Hampshire town hall.
Governor of North Dakota Doug Burgum
The governor said during his own New Hampshire town hall that support for Ukraine is critical, but not with a “blank check.”
Former Governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson
The former governor told C-SPAN in March that he believes American leadership in supporting Ukraine is important.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media