Introduction

Last weekend’s update got a great deal of comment, particularly when I tried to summarize the Republican Party’s and Speaker Johnson’s position on Ukraine. I thought it would be worthwhile, considering the great interest people have shown, to allow one of the most senior Republicans with whom I have been exchanging messages, the chance to outline some thinking on the issues. In particular this would be the state of the party, the influence of Trump and the policy towards Ukraine. This was done by email—and the answers are entirely this person’s. There is no alteration beyond one corrected typo. I don’t claim to agree or disagree with any of it—and I do think it is a very valuable way of looking into Republican Party dynamics today (and why, btw, I think it is so important to defeat Trump in the presidential election).

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1) Why would you say you are someone with a deep knowledge of the Republican Party today?

I’ve been involved in Republican politics for over 45 years and have developed deep personal relationships with each of the last six Republican Presidents. I maintain personal and professional connections to many of the current Republican leaders in the party, the Congress and a broad spectrum of policy makers. I know where the party has been, where it is today and where it is going tomorrow.

2) You have chosen to stay in the party and fight for it, even though you are deeply worried about what Donald Trump has done to the party and the USA. Why?

WORLD BRIEFING: May 25, 2024
Other Topics of Interest

WORLD BRIEFING: May 25, 2024

The world in focus, as seen by a Canadian leading global affairs analyst, writer and speaker, in his review of international media.

Very simply, the world needs a functioning Republican Party or else it will fall into disrepair or worse, a new dark age led by Putin or Xi. To that end, the Republican Party needs to have a coherent foreign policy that engages the world, recognizing threats and appropriately dealing with them. Frankly, probably 80 percent of the party rank and file could agree with this statement. It is up to those of us in the party who passionately believe in the ideals of United States to fight for this 80 percent and bring more of them to our side. How can we do that if we are not in the party?

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Many of your readers may scoff at what I just said. But your readers are quite intelligent - so consider this: 1/3 of the party would never support Trump in a COMPETITIVE primary (think Nikki Haley’s vote). 1/3 of the party just wants to back the winner and fight Democrats (these are the tribal Republicans). 1/3 of the party strongly backs Trump for a variety of reasons - policy, personality, etc. So 2/3rds of the party could/will back a candidate in the future who is a John McCain or Nikki Haley Republican. Just as easily as Trump took over the party in 2016, his people could lose it just as easily in 2028. I’m ready to fight for the party that played an outsized role in winning the Cold War.

3) You followed the twists and turns of the Republican Party’s internal debate over Ukraine closely, what happened to change things in the end?

Easy question: it was the right thing to do and it was now or never. The leaders realized that they couldn’t wait any longer and Ukraine needed supplies or else it would suffer catastrophic battlefield losses. It was also clear that Putin was not stopping in the Donbas and frankly probably wouldn’t stop with control over Ukraine. The leaders saw some of the moves happening in the Balkans and realized that could be the next front. For those who didn’t fully believe that, it was clear that weakness from the west in Ukraine would only encourage Chinese expansionism. So defeating Putin without one American soldier’s life being put at risk kills two birds with one stone: stopping Russian and Chinese expansion.

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4) In your estimation, why did Speaker Johnson decide in the end to bring the Ukraine aid bill to the floor and then vote for it?

Speaker Johnson was getting intel reports about the deteriorating situation on the Ukrainian frontlines. He had to make a choice and he didn’t want to go down in history as Neville Chamberlain. He’s a good man, doing the best he can in a job he was thrust into under really unfavorable circumstances.

5) What would say was Donald Trump’s role in all this?

His role was minimal by design. In reality, Donald Trump despises war. Unfortunately, he also admires aspects of Putin’s leadership style and despises Ukraine’s leadership for perceived support of Joe Biden during the Trump presidency. Trump would much prefer to withdraw US support for Ukraine and focus on migration and trade.  He also knows he needs to win the election to stay out of jail. Given that Nikki Haley’s supporters are critical to his chances of winning in November and those supporters care about Ukraine, Trump knew he needed to kind of/sort of punt on the Ukraine vote. If Trump had actually supported the Ukraine bill then many more of his most die hard supporters in Congress would have voted yes. It’s telling that they didn’t and foreshadows what Trump’s policy toward Ukraine will be.

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6) What is your best guess about how Nikki Haley Republicans vote in November 2024?

Nikki Haley Republicans will vote for Donald Trump in November. Bill Barr, former Trump AG, is a typical example. He was very vocal in his support for anyone but Trump in 2024. But once the choice became binary, he backed Trump. Almost all Nikki Haley Republicans will make the same decision. Unfortunately, tribalism is a powerful force. The USA is no different from other countries in this regard.

7) What do you believe Donald Trump would do about Ukraine and Russia if he is elected in November?

Donald Trump wants to avoid an inherited war similar to what Richard Nixon dealt with in Vietnam. Trump’s plan will be to pressure Ukraine (by threatening to cut off military aid) to trade land for peace.  Trump will then call himself a peacemaker and move onto other issues. Of course, in reality this will solve nothing and just allow Russia to claim it defeated NATO and Europe, re-arm and try again to takeover Ukraine from a stronger position in a few years. Moscow and St Petersburg will soak in the glorious victory of Mother Russia while the miserable outer Oblasts pay for it in blood.

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8) If he (Trump) loses, what are the chances that someone like Nikki Haley could lead Republicans in a different direction?

2028 will be an all-out war between the 1/3 of the party that supports Trump and the 1/3 that is anti-Trump. The primary will be decided by the 1/3 of the tribal Republicans who just want to back a winner and fight Democrats. The anti-Trump crowd will have one big advantage: Trump will not be in the primary. All the aspiring wannabe candidates will try to mimic Trump ala Vivek Ramaswamy and will fight for the hardcore Trump supporters thus dividing them in an inverse 2016 scenario. There will be fewer candidates in the Nikki Haley/traditionalist lane. If that lane consolidates quickly, the Trump lane will fight each other to death and the tribalists will start to back the traditionalist candidate as the “winner”. It might be hard to see now, but that’s how the pendulum will swing back in 2028

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I truly believe that Trump is like Robespierre in this respect: he has a very flexible ideology wrapped in patriotism. But ultimately Trump only cares about upending institutions, customs and norms. That can’t last for long. The question is what will follow Trump because whatever does will write the rules of the road for generations (similar to the Congress of Vienna or Pax Americana post WWII). That pen must not be ceded to China.

So tying everything together: if Trump loses in 2024, the odds are that a Republican will win in 2028 and that Republican will be from the non-Trump lane. It will fall to those of us who remain in the party to make sure we quickly consolidate that lane, develop a cogent set of policies that appeal across the party and bring back principles that encourage stability in the world, address challenges around technological advancement and confront our top geopolitical competitor in China in way that avoids war but preserves western democratic values.

Our challenges now seem enormous, but democracy always seems to find the right leader when it absolutely needs one. I believe 2028 will be that year and I want to be in the middle of that battle.

Phillips P. OBrien is Professor of Strategic Studies at the University of St Andrew, Scotland.

Reprinted from the author’s blog Phillips’s Newsletter.  See the original here.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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