Warmongering Risks GOP Gains this November

This past Sunday, we were given indications of two possible November midterm election outcomes for Republicans.  They came on Maria Bartiromo’s “Sunday Morning Futures” program.  It featured Stephen Miller, who served as a top advisor to former president Trump, and Senator Lindsey Graham, an erstwhile ally of Trump’s.      

Miller’s remarks provided a sensible approach in the hope of ceasing the Ukraine conflict.  Graham’s remarks were a continuation of his unremitting bellicosity about the war.  Whichever perspective prevails before November will have a bearing on how voters see GOP candidates and cast their ballots. 

Miller’s perspective is definitely more attuned to the American people’s sensibilities.  Polling since January consistently shows that Americans don’t want the U.S. military in Ukraine.  Graham’s constant banging of war drums risks alienating voters who are focused on the nation’s profound domestic troubles and are ready to throw out Democrats, wholesale. 

In Miller’s reckoning, hostilities need to end in Ukraine.  That’s achieved through a negotiated settlement.  A settlement won’t lay to rest every grievance — Russian or Ukrainian — but opens the door to further diplomacy and dialogue. 

Ongoing war means greater death and destruction; in other words, greater suffering inflicted on the Ukrainian people.  Realizing a cessation of hostilities “saves hundreds of thousands of lives,” per Miller’s argument.  Miller speculates that if Putin fails to negotiate, or negotiates in bad faith, and no settlement is secured, he’ll face the ire of the Russian people, who bear the increasing costs of Putin’s war.

Conrad Black, writing for Canada’s National Post, March 5, made a starkly realistic assessment of the prospects in Ukraine.  His analysis bolsters Miller’s call for a negotiated settlement. 

There are essentially three possible outcomes to this war: the total subjugation of Ukraine, as Putin evidently desires; some sort of compromise, probably based on the Russian-speaking eastern provinces, which Russia has already declared to be autonomous, joining Russia and leaving Ukraine, which would then be entirely autonomous, but forced to commit to not joining the western alliance, though it could have a security guarantee from it; or an indefinite and horribly costly war — an urbanized and more intensely conducted version of the Russian experience in Afghanistan and the American experience in Vietnam, though with nothing like the domestic support that America received from the South Vietnamese army and population.

Unfortunately, Graham isn’t alone among Republicans and some conservatives who appear to be angling for U.S. military involvement in Ukraine.  His happens to be the loudest and most intemperate voice, however.  While Graham always mentions that he’s against U.S. boots on the ground in Ukraine, the remark comes across as obligatory.  His greater body of comments suggests that he’s spoiling for a fight with Russia.

But judge for yourself about Graham.  His comments to Bartiromo are here.  Here, though, are highlights of his bombast. 

Graham took a sidelong slap at Miller’s call for a negotiated settlement that would commit Ukraine to neutrality.  Graham wants Ukraine in NATO, which Putin has said for years is unacceptable.  Imagine if the Warsaw Pact was still around and Canada wanted to join?  What would the U.S. response be? 

Graham said that he wanted to “crush” the Russian economy.  In other words, he’s playing a zero-sum game: one winner, one loser, and no in-between.  If sanctions flatten Russia or come close enough, what position is Graham leaving Putin in?  The position of a man who has nothing to lose.  Men who have nothing to lose are particularly dangerous. 

For Graham, the chance of major war in Europe (WWIII) is a “bluff.”  There isn’t any possibility of a continent-wide war should NATO intervene, much less an escalation to a nuclear conflict because “some general would shoot him [Putin] in the head” first.    

Speaking of assassination, Bartiromo mentioned that Graham has called for Putin’s fellow oligarchs to “arrest or assassinate” him.  Is publicly calling for the killing of a head-of-state — however despicable — prudent?  Careful about precedents.     

Then Graham waved what appeared to be a false flag and, in the process, betrayed his deepest desire.  If Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine, bring on a no-fly zone. 

Chemical warfare, which is indiscriminate and maims and kills civilians along with soldiers, would be abominable, yet the U.S. and NATO still have to act with restraint.  A no-fly zone would trigger a major war in Europe that would multiply death and destruction many times over.  A response there must be if Putin did so, but actions that lead to an all-out conflict can’t be an option.  

During the Cold War, from Truman to the elder Bush, the U.S. demonstrated necessary restraint knowing full well that the USSR was committing atrocities wherever it had control.  That restraint was the result of enormous discipline and informed by hard realities.  A third great war between nuclear-armed superpowers was a line not to be crossed.  It should be the line today.     

If Miller’s and Graham’s approaches were on the ballot this November, who would voters favor?  Republicans better start asking themselves that question.

Republicans need to remind themselves daily that their party’s base has been fundamentally changing since the advent of the Tea Party during Obama’s terms in office.  That change served as the seedbed for the America First movement that Donald Trump inaugurated and has come to personify.  The tag — “America First” — shouldn’t be lost on GOP politicians and consultants.  It accurately describes what their base voters want to be prioritized.    

If there’s a dropoff in support among the America First base this November, Republican candidates will suffer, especially those in competitive contests.  Midterms are, above all, about base voter turnout.  Dare say, independent leaners may stop leaning, too.    

It’s cavalier to assume that the base will turn out regardless of an ongoing tilt in focus and messaging favoring the Ukraine war over issues critical to Americans’ everyday lives. 

Inflation, energy vulnerability (versus independence), supply chain shortages, an erased southern border, urban crime that’s bleeding into suburbs, election integrity, unconstitutional COVID edicts (as in precedents set and needing to be undone legislatively), and rising drug (fentanyl) deaths all make voters’ priority lists.  Give short shrift to domestic issues critical to base voters and the anticipated red tidal wave this November may not materialize.               

Let’s underscore that America First voters don’t want U.S. involvement in wars where vital American interests and national security aren’t clearly at stake.  They reject neocons like Liz Cheney, posers like Mitt Romney, and phonies and blowhards like Lindsey Graham.  They don’t want forever wars (Afghanistan).  They oppose nation-building ventures (Afghanistan and Iraq).  “Fighting to defend democracy” in Ukraine or wherever is a breezy abstraction, a Wilsonian trope, not a compelling interest; there’s no tangible threat to U.S. national security in Ukraine.  You can bet voters know it. 

Lindsey Graham and other warpath Republicans are sucking up all the oxygen.  The media amplifies their belligerency because it plays within storylines about the Ukraine conflict.  The media’s nearly exclusive focus on the war may serve their purposes — and Biden’s — but not Republicans.  If Graham, et al, are who voters are hearing throughout the spring, into the summer, and the autumn, the GOP’s prospects are reduced — how much is hard to say, but it should concern cooler heads. 

Just last week, I wrote an article for American Thinker bullish on Republican prospects this November.  But focus and messaging need to return to issues that are impacting voters’ paychecks, welfare, and safety at home.  That isn’t to suggest that the Ukraine war isn’t important and should be ignored.  It can’t and shouldn’t be.  But Graham’s and his ilk’s constant war talk do the GOP no favors. 

/Politics are foremost local and personal.  Republicans who want a convincing — indeed, huge — victory this November would do well to remember that. 

J. Robert Smith can be found regularly at Gab @JRobertSmith.  He also blogs at Flyover               

Image: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine

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Laine Michaud