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The GOP doesn't care about democracy — anywhere

Republicans used to be all for democracy around the world. Times change.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is eyeing the speaker’s gavel should Republicans flip the chamber in next month’s midterm elections. Among the potential changes he’s previewed: rethinking U.S. aid to Ukraine.

“I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine,” McCarthy recently told Punchbowl News. “They just won’t do it.” He added that “Ukraine is important, but at the same time it can’t be the only thing [the Biden administration does] and it can’t be a blank check.”

I’m so old that I remember when democracy, at home and abroad, was at the center of the Republican Party’s brand. Empowering government at the state and local levels meant leaving control in the hands of the people. In the post-Cold War hegemony, the U.S.’s role was toppling dictators and providing the freedom that Americans enjoy to the newly liberated.

Did I agree with the assumptions behind that platform or the methods used to enact them? Absolutely not. But, to quote “The Big Lebowski’s” Walter Sobchak, at least it’s an ethos. Which is far more than I can say for today’s GOP.

What a difference a decade makes, though. Imagine in 2012, when GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was castigated for suggesting Russia is America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe, that supporting Ukraine against Moscow would even be seen as a tough choice among Republicans. I’m not saying I’d like to see the neoconservatives return to power, but there’s something incredibly devoid of principles in McCarthy’s words.

In placing funding for Ukraine on notice while arguing that the Biden administration isn’t “doing the border,” McCarthy is simultaneously firing off a warning shot to the White House and trying to shift focus back to one of the GOP’s favorite bugbears: immigration. While it’s not clear exactly what McCarthy meant in refusing to sign off on a “blank check” for Ukraine, the implication seems to be that Republicans would agree to further funding only in exchange for cuts in Democratic initiatives or increases in funding for GOP priorities like border security. (It should be noted that the Democratic-led House this year voted to increase Customs and Border Protection’s budget by almost 6%, to $15.74 billion.)

To be fair, McCarthy’s comments could mean the GOP would demand a greater commitment to reforms from the Ukrainian government. But I fear most demands McCarthy would be after on that front would likely reek of former President Donald Trump’s misadventures in 2019. Though, given the embrace of Trump’s other positions over the years, I wouldn’t put that past McCarthy.

Despite the geopolitical implications of McCarthy’s comments, domestic politics are likely the only thing on the minority leader’s mind.

You can see that pliability in McCarthy’s willingness to become speaker of the House through the support of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and other should-be pariahs. The Washington Post recently determined that a majority of Republican nominees on ballots this fall have denied or questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. The New York Times found a similarly disturbing result in its own tally.

That having been said, it’s also entirely possible that McCarthy lacks the votes to back up his bluster. When a $40 billion aid package came up for a vote in May, 156 Republicans voted in favor — including McCarthy. Almost all Republicans voted against $12.3 billion more in September, but that money was attached to a stopgap funding bill, which dimmed GOP support. A clean bill could still garner a majority, despite McCarthy’s threat.

What’s clear is that despite the geopolitical implications of McCarthy’s comments, domestic politics are likely the only thing on the minority leader’s mind. His declaration is less about what happens in Kyiv and more about control of his caucus. If that means threatening to cut off support to an ally that has been fighting off an invasion for the last eight months, well, so be it.

I’m not trying to argue that any questioning of aid to Ukraine shows a lack of commitment to democracy. But taken altogether, the message McCarthy has delivered is that his party is fine with autocracy, both at home and abroad.