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The GOP’s march away from Ukraine has halted

President Biden and NATO allies will be meeting in Lithuania starting Tuesday to chart their course forward with Ukraine.

While the issue still poses major questions both domestically and internationally — as highlighted by Biden’s recent decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine, as well as the debate over Ukraine’s potential NATO membership — we can at least say one thing: The GOP’s march away from support for Ukraine has halted.

For about the first year after Russia’s February 2022 invasion, the Republican Party’s softening on Ukraine was swift and steady. By January, the opposition hit a landmark, with a majority of GOP voters saying they wanted their member of Congress to oppose further funding for Ukraine. A large number of Republicans were even willing to give Russia some of Ukraine’s territory if it meant an end to the war.

But since then, shifts in public opinion have largely ground to a halt. And for perhaps the first time, there’s even a suggestion that GOP support for Ukraine might have increased — particularly after Wagner Group mercenary boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s failed mutiny called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hold on power into question.

The Pew Research Center has regularly polled support for military aid to Ukraine. In the 10 months between March 2022 and January, the percentage of GOP-leaning voters who said we were providing “too much” aid to Ukraine increased by 31 points, to 40 percent. But by mid-June, that number stood largely unchanged at 44 percent.

Regular polling for YouGov tells much the same story. It showed the percentage of Republicans who favored decreasing Ukraine aid rising to 36 percent by late October. Today, that number stands at 41 percent.

That poll was conducted even as the Prigozhin mutiny was playing out. And a poll conducted shortly afterward actually suggests rising GOP support.

In May, the Reuters-Ipsos poll showed Republicans were about evenly split on sending weapons to Ukraine. But its late June poll showed them 12 points in favor, 56 percent to 44 percent.

The May poll showed Republicans split 50-50 on whether they would be more or less likely to support a presidential candidate who provides Ukraine aid. But after Prigozhin-led mutiny, they said they would be more likely to support such a candidate, 57-43.

It’s just one poll, but it’s virtually unprecedented to see any real movement in Ukraine’s favor on the GOP side of the ledger, in any poll.

The Reuters poll also asked a battery of questions that gets at why the GOP might be reluctant to drift further away from Ukraine. It listed multiple statements about the war and asked whether people agreed or disagreed.

Republicans agreed 74-26 that “doing nothing in Ukraine will encourage Russia to take further military action in Ukraine.”

They also agreed 76-24 that “aid to Ukraine shows China and other global competitors that the U.S. has the will and capability to protect our interests, our allies and ourselves.”

That spotlights the long-running GOP tension. Despite reluctance to send money or weapons, it has almost always been the case that most Republicans wanted Ukraine to win and even saw an American interest in ensuring that was the case. Despite efforts by the likes of former president Donald Trump and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson to legitimize Putin, there is virtually no regard for him or Russia in the GOP (fewer than 1 in 10 Republicans had a favorable opinion of him in the YouGov poll).

Why hasn’t the GOP continued to move against aiding Ukraine? Perhaps that 40 percent or so who want to pull back are the party’s true noninterventionist wing, and it was ultimately more or less maxed out. Perhaps people have begun to see actual prospects for Ukraine’s success and Russia’s failure, with a nudge from Prigozhin. (The YouGov poll has long showed that more Republicans think Russia will ultimately win, but they were evenly split in the most recent poll.) Perhaps it has something to do with the party’s Russia hawks starting to assert themselves around the first anniversary of the war in February, combined with the likes of the most Putin-friendly cable news host, Carlson, being pulled off the air. Or perhaps it’s some combination of the above.

That doesn’t mean it will always be thus. Ukraine’s success in its recently launched counteroffensive will surely have an impact on views of its prospects, which could, in turn, affect support. The debate over Ukraine’s potential NATO membership — a major subplot this week in Lithuania — also could color views, with some conservatives arguing that pushing too hard to bring Ukraine into the fold could be provocative to Russia. We’re also in line for a clash (at some point) over another aid package to Ukraine, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) signaling it will be significantly constrained by agreements made in the debt ceiling deal.

But if the trajectory the GOP was on six months ago had continued, further aid would probably have been unthinkable. It’s true that a strong majority of congressional Republicans have supported and appear to continue to support Ukraine, but we’ve also seen how much force the pull of the base can have in today’s GOP.

That base, at least regarding Ukraine, isn’t pulling quite so hard anymore.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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