Opinion: GOP edges closer to party fight over Ukraine aid

This may be remembered as the week that Republicans began an internal battle over support for Ukraine.

The big move came from Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who said the fate of Ukraine is not a vital U.S. foreign policy interest.

Poised to get into the GOP race for President, DeSantis downplayed the Russian invasion of Ukraine by labeling it a ‘territorial dispute’ — like it was some kind of long-running argument between Georgia and Tennessee over the exact location of the border.

The change of tone on Ukraine by DeSantis — who is obviously the biggest GOP threat to former President Donald Trump — clearly put the Florida Governor closer to Trump and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, than the bulk of the Republican Party in Congress.

The reaction on Capitol Hill was swift.

“To those who believe that Russia’s unprovoked and barbaric invasion of Ukraine is not a priority for the United States — you are missing a lot,” said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“American leadership matters,” added U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex.

So far, Republican defenders of Ukraine have had the upper hand in Congress, led by Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Defeating the Russians in Ukraine is the single most important event going on in the world right now,” McConnell has argued.

But could that GOP viewpoint change in the months ahead?

While most Republicans still embrace the familiar doctrine of confronting Moscow, that’s not what the Trump wing of the GOP is all about.

“America’s border is more important to Americans than Ukraine’s borders,” said Greene, as the Georgia Republican has become one of the loudest GOP opponents on Capitol Hill to more aid for Ukraine.

What Greene and other Ukraine critics want is more attention to issues here at home, with a foreign policy focus on China. They contend Europe should take the lead to stop any Russian threat.

“Trump was right, our NATO allies must contribute more to their own collective defense,” U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick, R-Suwanee, said last month.

“America Last is an understatement,” U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens, has said of the Biden White House when it comes to Ukraine.

At some point this year, there will be votes in Congress on more military funding for Ukraine. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Trump and DeSantis oppose such plans, much to the delight of the Kremlin.

Does that then push Georgia Republicans in Congress to go against Ukraine as well?

The answers aren’t known on that front as yet. But one thing is very clear – Ronald Reagan would not recognize this GOP debate.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com