The prospect of war raises the stakes and heightens the intensity of political disagreement. But the outbreak of war often has the reverse effect, with pressures for national unity narrowing the spectrum of debate. In the weeks leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, arguments within the Republican Party were particularly intense, leading analysts like Amber Phillips of The Washington Post to write about “a huge split among Republicans on how to characterize what’s happening.”
As the conflict progressed, this huge split has been papered over. Voices, notably Tucker Carlson of Fox News, that have previously been loudly warning against American involvement in the conflict become more subduedhewing closer to the Republican Party line condemning the invasion and criticizing Joe Biden for alleged weakness.
This progression can be seen most clearly in the most famous Republican, Donald Trump, who has never been shy about praising Vladimir Putin. On February 22, in an interview on the The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Showthe former president celebrated Putin’s strategy of recognizing as sovereign republics the breakaway territories of Donetsk and Luhansk. This was, he said, “genius.” Trump chortled, “I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s going to go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s the strongest peace force. We could use that on our southern border.” But just four days later, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Trump shifted his tack, calling the invasion “an atrocity that should have never been allowed to occur.” He did continue to insist that Putin was “smart,” in contrast to American leaders who were “dumb.”
Yet, even if Trump has toned down his words about Putin, this shift isn’t likely to last long. While passions about the war may cool in the coming weeks and months, the divisions that existed before the invasion of Ukraine are likely to resurface since they are a product of fundamental ideological differences.
in a Washington Post column, Amber Phillips provided a useful taxonomy of three primary types: the Hawks, the Putin Sympathizers, and the “Why Should We care?” contingent. (For the sake of clarity, I’ve shifted the order of her listing.) To this list one could note there is a fourth ideological type that existed in the past but now is notably missing: the Republican Realists.