Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the America First Agenda Summit, at the Marriott Marquis hotel July 26, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the America First Agenda Summit, at the Marriott Marquis hotel July 26, 2022 in Washington, DC. Getty Images / Drew Angerer

Biden Is Arming Ukraine To ‘Play For a Tie,’ Some America-First GOPers Say

The view reveals disagreement even among Trump-following Republicans about how to respond to Russia’s invasion.

The America-first faction of the Republican party is at war with itself over how much the United States should be helping Ukraine in the lead-up to the November election. 

Some non-interventionist Republicans say President Joe Biden is doing too much to help Ukraine, sending massive amounts of money and weapons with no plan for how the war ends while ignoring trouble back home. Others in the Trump wing of the party, however, argued this week that Biden is acting too slowly. He is giving the Ukrainian troops just enough to prolong the conflict and prevent defeat, they say, when he should be sending even more weapons to score a decisive victory over Russia. 

“We’ve got to provide what it takes to win that war and the sooner the better,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said Monday at the America First Agenda Summit in Washington, which also included a Tuesday keynote from former president Donald Trump that focused on public safety and police. “My outcome that I want to see…is that we absolutely annihilate the Russian forces and we get them to crawl back into Russia so bloodied and bruised that they can’t come back,” Ernst said.

Trump touched on the military briefly in his speech, calling for “left-wing race and gender theories” to be eliminated from the military and saying the Pentagon should rehire troops who were discharged because they refused COVID vaccines. 

“It’s a great shame of the Pentagon brass that they have not spoken out in defense of their own service members,” he said.

Republicans at the conference slammed President Joe Biden for “slowly doling out” weapons to Ukraine and not fully meeting the Ukrainian request for equipment, and also said Russian leader Vladimir Putin felt he could launch the invasion now because he saw “weakened American leadership” under Biden. 

The Biden administration has sent more than $7 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February. However, the administration has stopped short of providing some of the most advanced weapons that Ukrainian officials have been asking for. On Friday, Pentagon officials said they would send four more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to Ukraine, bringing the total pledged to 16. But Ukrainian officials have said they need at least 100 of the long-range rocket launchers to beat back Russia. Ukrainian troops have also asked for Western jets, which the White House has so far declined to send, though officials acknowledged it was being considered.   

That’s not enough, according to some Republicans.

“This administration is helping them play for a tie. Actually, right now they’re helping them lose slowly,” Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., said at the summit. “Instead of going for the win right now and helping the Ukrainians when they’re at their weakest, we’re going to fiddle fart around and provide them just enough rather than help them with what they need.”  

The conversation about arming Ukraine shows a divide within the America First section of the Republican Party. Some Democrats and conservative analysts have predicted a GOP-controlled Congress would cut off aid to Ukraine because of America Firsters who shy away from traditional interventionist views. 

"At the beginning, there was a bum rush by neoconservatives using everyone’s outrage at Putin and Biden’s inability to project strength," said Russ Vought, president of the Center for Renewing America and former director of the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget. "I think the outrage of that moment has settled into a realistic assessment of where we are, and that is: we can’t be in a situation where we are telling a country like Ukraine that was once a part of Russia 'as long as it takes'.”

At the two-day America First conference, which was hosted by the America First Policy Institute, lawmakers and former Trump administration officials also emphasized the importance of burden-sharing with European allies and the threat posed by China, both key messages during the Trump administration.

The event, which is being held for the first time, featured remarks from a number of Trump allies, including former national security advisor Keith Kellogg, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and Trump’s senior counselor Kellyanne Conway. But it also attracted two dozen current members of Congress, including two House leaders, and eight lawmakers who serve on the Armed Services committee and Foreign Affairs committees, suggesting this America First agenda has significant support among Republicans on Capitol Hill.  

The lawmakers heaped fawning praise on Trump for everything from pushing the Europeans to contribute more to their own defense to providing Ukraine with weapons to sounding the alarm about China. Sen. Bill Haggerty, R-La., said he believed many Americans in 2015 would have called Beijing a “friend” who produced cheap t-shirts. But Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric on China changed that. 

“It took President Trump stepping up and actually talking about this, actually waking the American public up, and frankly, I think he woke up the rest of the world,” Haggery said.