Many conservatives, led by former President Donald Trump, question the U.S. role in helping Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion. Some are broadly skeptical of most international commitments, and others question President Biden’s handling of Russia or even admire Mr. Putin.
Benjamin H. Friedman, policy director at Defense Priorities, a Washington think tank, said Russia has become central to the right’s image of itself and Mr. Biden.
“I think one big effect of the Trump administration was to make Russia, and by extension Ukraine, a very partisan issue and to breed all kinds of sympathy for Russia among Republicans, largely because they see it as part of their conservative identity and a way to oppose the establishment that is more hawkish on Russia,” he said.
Mr. Trump had years of interactions with Mr. Putin, including some one-on-one talks where not even his advisers knew what was said. That infuriated the left and fueled wild speculation about Russia having the goods on Mr. Trump and the now-discredited claims that Mr. Trump colluded with the Kremlin to win the 2016 election.
Although Mr. Trump has had some oddly fawning moments of praise for Mr. Putin, his supporters say a much more basic idea is behind his reluctance to pick sides in the war.
“When Trump first ran, his populist movement was based on three things: bringing jobs back to America through tariffs, closing the border and getting out of these wars,” said John Fredericks, a radio host and co-chair of Mr. Trump’s 2016 Virginia campaign. “This isn’t about a victory. This is about lives being saved. Trump’s position on that has never wavered.”
Those surprised by Mr. Trump’s reluctance to embrace support for Ukraine don’t understand the principles of Mr. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement, Mr. Fredericks said.
Skepticism over foreign entanglements runs deep within the Republican Party.
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