With more than a year and a half to go until the 2024 U.S. presidential election, the campaign season is already underway. Unlike other developed nations, there are no laws in the U.S. mandating the length of presidential campaigns. South of the U.S. border, Mexican legislators passed electoral reforms in 2007 shortening the presidential campaign season from 186 days to 90. Yet, possibly the most succinct presidential campaigns are held in Japan where the law permits only 12 days of official campaigning before an election. In the U.S., however, the majority of a president’s last two years in office are spent campaigning if he or she is planning to run for re-election.
Presidents will often attend campaign and fundraising events, touting their accomplishments over the past two years, while also making public appearances in small towns across the country and engaging in debates with constituents on issues that resonate most profoundly with their voters. The president’s photographer is always in-tow, ready at a moment’s notice to capture that one endearing moment when the commander-in-chief picks up a cooing baby or hugs a senior citizen in a wheelchair – all priceless images fitting for a re-election campaign.
Nothing quite compares to a wartime visit to the troops for a political PR boost. President George W. Bush made a surprise visit in November 2003 to celebrate Thanksgiving with U.S. servicemen stationed in Iraq, just a year prior to the presidential election. Although the visit was partially intended to boost troop morale, the Iraq war was also shaping up to be a contentious issue for the 2004 campaign. Videos of soldiers cheering and applauding the president as he entered the military base and announced to the crowd that he was "just looking for a warm meal somewhere. Thank you for inviting me to dinner," was political gold for Bush’s campaign staff.
President Biden’s recent trip to Ukraine made for similar political theatre, particularly as air raid sirens blasted in the background as Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy toured the streets of Kyiv. For President Biden, such a photo op demonstrated his commitment to advocate on the world stage for the Ukrainian people’s right to defend their sovereignty. Yet, Biden’s support of Ukraine has far deeper implications than a few polling points or an uptick in his approval rating. His unwavering support has propelled Ukraine’s ability to stay in the fight, defying expectations that the conflict would be over in a matter of days.
U.S. assistance to Ukraine
Since the onset of war in February 2022, Ukraine has received over $113 billion in aid from the United States, comprised of security, humanitarian, and financial assistance. The U.S. remains by far the largest donor of military aid to Ukraine, with the UK trailing behind in a distant second, contributing $5.1 billion from January 2022 to January 2023, followed by the European Union, which provided $3.3 billion to Ukraine’s war efforts during the same period. In 2022 alone, military assistance to Ukraine was estimated to be equivalent to U.S. aid to Afghanistan, Israel, and Egypt in 2020 combined. Undoubtedly, the role of U.S. security assistance – amounting to nearly $48 billion – has played a pivotal role in Ukraine’s defensive capabilities.
As the U.S. considers Ukraine one of its top strategic partners in Europe, the Department of Defense has consistently armed Ukraine to support its war effort over the past year, in the form of anti-aircraft and anti-armour systems, Abrams tanks, Bradley vehicles, an array of munitions and, more recently, anti-drone laser guided rocket systems to counter Russia’s newly acquired Iranian-made Shahed UAVs, all in an attempt to strengthen Ukraine’s military capabilities in the near and long-term.
However, the days of Ukraine serving as America’s top recipient of foreign aid could be numbered. With the 2024 election looming, campaign rhetoric surrounding the Russia-Ukraine war is already heating up. The top two Republican Party (GOP) contenders, former president Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have both publicly stated their intention to push back against continued American involvement in Eastern Europe if elected. Such a position goes against the grain of the GOP’s long-standing ‘Reagan Doctrine’ style of foreign policy rooted in the perspective of former president Ronald Reagan, who believed it was in the interest of the U.S. to assert its power by taking on the responsibility of serving as the leader of the free world.
Reagan’s mantra of “peace through strength” supported freedom for people from all walks of life around the globe. However, the ‘Reagan Doctrine’ also served as the backbone of his administration’s strategy to support anti-Communist insurgents – wherever they might be – in an attempt to eradicate communism worldwide and end the Cold War. Likewise, the ‘Bush Doctrine’ – which referred to the guiding foreign policy principles of the George W. Bush administration – became synonymous with Bush’s declaration of “war on terror” following the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001. Bush’s policy legitimized pre-emptive attacks and regime change at the behest of American national interest, only to culminate with the U.S.’s unilateral decision to invade Iraq in 2003 on the premise of promoting democracy – a decision deemed by historians and scholars alike to have initiated the decline of American soft power abroad.
Both Bush and Reagan – who were considered ‘conservative internationalists’ – favored an active U.S. presence overseas and supported the expansion of freedom through the use of military force. Yet, growing factions inside today’s Republican Party are attempting to redefine America’s foreign policy through a populist lens. Populist leaders, like Trump, often rouse voters’ grievances and frustrations with traditional politics, vowing instead to govern for the will of the scorned in the face of the political elite – the basis of Trump’s ‘America First’ rallying cry. During a 2017 speech addressing his administration’s strategy in Afghanistan, Trump stated: “We will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands, or try to rebuild other countries in our own image. Those days are now over.”
This past March, during a keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference, commonly known as CPAC, the MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) right’s rising star, Kari Lake, addressed America’s continued efforts in Ukraine, telling fellow conservatives: “This is not our fight. We are America first.” Although Lake was speaking in front of a crowd of over 2,000 attendees, her messaging was targeted for an audience of one – Donald Trump. Lake is among the top four contenders the former president is mulling over as a potential vice-presidential pick for his 2024 election ticket.
To date, it appears the U.S. may be gearing up for a 2020 replay, with the possibility of former president Trump running against incumbent President Joe Biden. If America is indeed heading towards a Trump-Biden replay, the winner of the next U.S. presidential election could have a deciding effect on the war in Ukraine and, in the case of a Trump victory, undermine stability in Eastern Europe as well.
Following the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine, President Zelenskiy was asked during a press conference to comment on the recent AP-NORC Center Poll, which surveyed over 1,000 American adults and found that overall public support in sending weaponry and direct economic assistance to Ukraine has declined since the onset of the war. Zelenskiy urged his American allies to “change their opinion” as such a posture not only has the potential to undermine U.S. global influence, but also runs the risk of igniting World War III. He stated that if America ends it support for Ukraine in its war efforts and Russia achieves a victory, it would embolden President Putin to enter the Baltics, which would include Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania – all NATO members. In such a scenario, according to Zelenskiy, America would be forced to send its “sons and daughters, exactly the same way as we are” to fight on behalf of its NATO allies.
Former vice president Mike Pence, who has also announced his intention to run for president in 2024, stands as a Republican outlier when it comes to continued support for Ukraine, recently stating that “there is no room for Putin apologists in the Republican Party.” Pence echoed a similar sentiment to Zelenskiy when asked about continued funding for the Russia-Ukraine War, pointing out that “withholding or reducing support will have consequences: If Putin is not stopped now and he moves into NATO-controlled territory, the cost will be far greater.”
It is worth recalling that former president Trump’s first impeachment was a result of his abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in December 2019. In a phone call between Trump and President Zelenskiy in July of 2019, Trump threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless Zelenskiy announced publicly that his government was considering to conduct an investigation into President Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who had personal business dealings in Ukraine dating back to 2014. Although President Zelenskiy later denied any form of “blackmail” in his call with Trump, according to the official articles of impeachment prepared by the House of Representatives, president Trump had hoped such a public announcement would benefit his re-election campaign while harming the election prospects of his political opponent, Joe Biden, ultimately influencing the 2020 election to his advantage. Despite being impeached twice and facing an array of legal battles, Trump has not been deterred from seeking office for a second term; however, there remains some uncertainty about his path to the Oval Office in 2024.
Donald Trump was first out of the gates to announce his intention to run for president – for the third time – in November 2022. To date, his foremost Republican opponent remains Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who recently declared his official presidential bid to run for office and is viewed as the alternative candidate for conservative Republicans suffering from “Trump fatigue”. A growing number of Republican voters, compared to the 2020 election cycle, have become exhausted with the scandals and legal troubles constantly orbiting the former president and are primed to support the next generation of GOP leaders. Yet, the percentage of such voters may not represent enough of the Republican base to prevent another Trump primary victory. Former president Trump continues to tighten his lead against DeSantis, with recent polling data indicating Trump’s 28-point lead over the Florida Governor – his highest margin to date.
President Joe Biden also recently announced his formal bid for re-election, asking voters to allow him to “finish the job” in an official campaign launch video. However, the democratic party to date does not remain in lock-step behind a second Biden term. A recent Monmouth University poll found that 4 out of 10 Democratic voters (equivalent to 44% of those polled) would rather President Biden stepped aside in favour of another candidate for the upcoming 2024 election. At present, two candidates have announced their bid to run against Biden. The first is self-help guru and author Marianne Williamson, who is currently polling at 4% among Democratic voters, according to a recent survey. Williamson recently stated that the U.S. should continue to support diplomatic endeavours to end the war in Ukraine but “never waver”, stating that further escalation with Russia would be her administration’s solution should diplomacy fail: “In the case of the war in Ukraine, Russia would meet any such overture with nothing but further aggression until such time as military conditions made it difficult for him to refuse the offer. Why would he do otherwise, when in his mind he is winning the war?”
The second long-shot Democratic candidate to announce his presidential bid is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – nephew of assassinated president John F. Kennedy – who has become synonymous for his long-time, anti-vax position. In 2017, Kennedy was asked by former president Trump to chair a presidential commission on ‘vaccine safety and scientific integrity’ as Trump had voiced concerns over U.S. vaccine policy – a parallel that will not bode well with Democratic voters at the ballot box in 2024. President Biden has long remained adamant that neither Vice President Kamala Harris nor any other democratic nominee for that matter, has what it takes to beat Trump if he were to secure the Republican ticket nominee, which is a factor influencing Biden’s decision to run again, a former White House official told Reuters.
America divided: The future of Ukrainian assistance
Like most issues in America, continued support for Ukraine remains mostly a partisan issue for potential voters. In a recent Morning Consult poll, 46% of potential GOP primary voters stated they did not view U.S. military support and funding for Ukraine’s fight against Russia as a vital U.S. interest. Similarly, a Pew Research survey found that there has been a steep decline in the American public’s perception of the threat posed by the war in Ukraine. In March 2022 – one month after the start of the war – 51% of Republicans and 50% of Democrats polled viewed the Russia-Ukraine war as a “major threat to American interests.” Yet, when polled again in January 2023, these figures dropped to 29% of Republicans and 43% of Democrats.
Attempting to shore up further electoral support resonating with the GOP base, both Trump and DeSantis have publicly expressed similar sentiment on the declining Republican interest in continuing assistance to Ukraine. Trump, who proclaimed that Russia would never have attacked Ukraine if he were president, gave an almost two-hour speech at CPAC stating that if he were to be re-elected, he would have “the disastrous war between Russia and Ukraine settled” and that it would take him “no longer than one day,” without elaborating on how he would establish lasting peace between the two adversaries.
Meanwhile, Tucker Carlson – a conservative political commentator and former host of the right-wing political talk show ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ on the Fox News network – posed identical key questions to all potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates on the war in Ukraine. When asked whether opposing Russia in Ukraine should be considered a vital U.S. interest, Governor DeSantis stated that America is currently juggling many challenges, such as securing its borders, achieving energy security and independence, and addressing its strategic competition with China, but that “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”
When pressed for his position on the war and whether opposing Russia in Ukraine is vital to America’s national interest, Donald Trump evaded the inquiry and instead placed the burden on Europe, stating: “[Europe] must pay at least equal to what the U.S. is paying to help Ukraine. They must also pay us, retroactively, the difference. At a staggering 125 billion dollars, we are paying 4 to 5 times more, and this fight is far more important for Europe than it is for the U.S.” When questioned about the limits of funding for Ukraine, Trump expressed that such a decision could only be based on one-on-one conversations with President Putin to “determine the direction in which Russia is headed.”
It is likely that with such an ambiguously worded reply, he is attempting to evade answering directly whether or not a potential future Trump administration would cut funding altogether to Ukraine. It is worth noting that today’s MAGA Republicans are predominantly an older generation of voters, who grew up during the divisive Cold War era and are less likely to support Trump’s pro-Putin agenda.
The Trump-Putin affinity
Donald Trump has long held an affinity towards President Putin, dating back before his presidency. In 2013, following his announcement that the Miss Universe pageant would be held in Moscow that year – a pageant he owned – Trump inexplicably tweeted: ‘“Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?” In an even further unabashed display during a 2018 press conference, following a meeting with President Putin in Helsinki, Trump stood brazenly in front of the media publicly taking Putin’s word – over that of the U.S. intelligence community – that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 presidential elections.
Such a position deeply contrasted with the assessments of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence led by Trump appointee, Dan Coats. The intelligence agencies issued a joint report in January of 2017, which assessed that President Putin did indeed direct “an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” with the intent to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” The agencies further assessed that President Putin “developed a clear preference for president-elect Trump.”
Immediately after the start of the war in Ukraine last February, Trump was interviewed on a conservative radio show where he praised Putin’s tenacity, stating: “This is genius. Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine (…) Putin declares it as independent. How smart is that? And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper.” Not long after, while speaking at a fundraising event, Trump again reiterated his admiration of Putin’s attack on Ukraine, quipping: “He’s taking over a country for two dollars’ worth of sanctions. I’d say that’s pretty smart. He’s taking over a country – really a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people, and just walking right in.”
Over the years, there has been much speculation regarding Trump’s attraction to Putin. Some political analysts assert that Trump has been long calculating to land on Putin’s good side, with the hopes of striking lucrative real estate deals in Russia – which to date have yet to materialize – while others closer to Trump’s inner circle state that this fondness has a much darker undertone. In his recent book, Trump’s former lawyer and ‘fixer’ Michael Cohen says that Trump has an affinity for “strongmen” who have unyielding power, stating that “with Putin, it wasn't just self-interest – Trump genuinely admires the Russian leader.”
Trump has also publicly expressed affinity for North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, whose nation, according to a 2014 UN Report, has committed crimes against humanity in the form of “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights,” including “torture and denial of basic human rights and freedoms.” When pressed by reporters to comment on North Korea’s human rights abuses, following a summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore back in 2018, Trump gave a vague reply stating “it’s a rough situation over there” while also calling Kim “very talented.” Trump’s most bewildering sentiment of Kim Jong Un was expressed during a campaign rally in Washington state, where Trump told the crowd that while he and Kim held “tough” talks during the Singapore summit over denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, the pair ultimately “fell in love” and exchanged “beautiful letters” thereafter.
Documents and communications related to a president’s official duties, including the ‘love letters’ between Kim Jong Un and Trump, are considered White House records; yet, they were not handed over to the National Archives at the end of his presidency. Such documents became central to the FBI’s raid on Trump’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, back in August 2022 – one of the numerous outstanding legal issues the former president is juggling as he runs for re-election.
Biden & Putin: Preparing for the long haul
During an interview with The Washington Post, following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.S. Army General David Petraeus conveyed to reporter Rick Atkinson the most fundamental question a commander must consider in any conflict: “How does this end?” For President Zelenskiy, there is no end to the war in Ukraine until all Ukrainian territory is reclaimed from Russia – including Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
Concluding a speech at Mariinsky Palace during his recent trip to Kyiv, Biden expressed to President Zelenskiy: “You remind us that freedom is priceless; it’s worth fighting for for as long as it takes. And that’s how long we’re going to be with you, Mr. President: for as long as it takes.” Although America does not have boots on the ground in Ukraine, the promise of infinite financial resources to a country on the other side of the globe will continue to be a hard sell to the American public – especially as a growing number of middle-class Americans remain unable to make ends meet as U.S. inflation lingers.
In September 2022, President Putin ordered a partial military conscription of 300,000 men to replenish Russia’s military force for the war in Ukraine – Russia’s first call-to-order since WWII. Mass protests ensued with over 1,300 people arrested for denouncing the mobilization efforts. The price of one-way tickets flying out of Russia skyrocketed as ordinary Russians fled the country out of fear of what their future might hold. As for the researchers and pollsters operating in Russia, tracking figures on public support for/against the war in Ukraine presents challenges, as surveying citizens who live under an authoritarian regime with no freedom of speech can produce unreliable data. In March 2022, the Russian Parliament approved harsh censorship legislation, which called for up to 15 years of imprisonment or hefty fines of up to 5 million rubles (nearly $62,000) for anyone distributing ‘fake news’ and discrediting the Russian Army. For those who have refused to flee the country – or those unable to afford to do so – a ‘forged’ sense a loyalty to Putin and his war has emerged. They would rather put on a façade of support than suffer the consequences of ‘public dissent’.
More recently, the Russian government has begun signalling to its public to be prepared for the long-haul, pointing to a lengthy, protracted war. According to The Guardian, at a recent private gathering, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told guests: “Things will get much harder. This will take a very, very long time.” For President Putin, public defeat is not an option. Likewise, as the 2024 Republican frontrunners are openly calling to reassess funding for Ukraine, it is in Putin’s interest to “wait out Western resolve,” buying his time until the election if there is no immediate incentive for a peace process. Putin has far greater manpower at his disposal to elongate the war until 2024.
Concern over Russian election meddling in 2024
Russia’s 2016 U.S. presidential election interference campaign orchestrated the digital hacking of several prominent U.S. politicians, including then-democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), stealing and staging the releases of politically damaging emails and documents in an attempt to discredit Clinton’s campaign. In addition to exploiting politicians, the FBI discovered that 12 Russian military intelligence officers hacked state entities responsible for administering the U.S. elections, as well as voting software and technologies, in an attempt to undermine election integrity.
Kremlin-backed hackers also targeted American social media platforms, unleashing “troll farms” – organizations tasked with trolling the internet and sowing disinformation to sway political opinion. In 2016, Russia’s internet trolls created fake accounts using the stolen identities of American citizens, in an attempt to stoke the discourse of politics, religion, and race to influence undecided voters. Investigations by U.S. intelligence agencies along with Special Council Robert Muller, who was appointed in 2017 by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to oversee an independent investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference, all concluded that Russia’s 2016 election interference efforts were designed to increase Donald Trump’s chances of winning by undermining Clinton’s campaign while sowing distrust in American democracy overall.
During Congressional testimony following his investigation, Robert Mueller, former director of the FBI, told lawmakers that Russia’s election interference was “among the most serious challenges to democracy he had encountered in his decades-long career.” The concern for the U.S. government today is whether Russia – following their success in 2016 – will again attempt to influence the 2024 election by helping to elect a pro-Putin candidate, one who favours cutting spending for Ukraine, enabling a sure-fire path towards a Russian victory in the war.
Global implications of decreased U.S. support for Ukraine
There are two important factors to consider if American voters elect a Republican president who does not consider financial and military support for the war in Ukraine as vital to U.S. national interests. First, if the U.S. decreases assistance to Ukraine, enabling Russia to retain claimed territory, the Ukrainian military could take on massive losses, demoralizing its ranks. This could undermine Zelenskiy’s broad domestic support and put his leadership at risk. Such a scenario sets the stage for the potential election of a president who may be more ‘sympathetic’ to Putin’s overarching goal of reuniting Ukraine with Russia, as he views the two nations as “one people” as outlined in his 5,000-word essay on Russian-Ukraine relations, published in July 2021. Putin concludes the piece stating: “I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.”
Second, it is likely that America’s adversaries are scrutinizing the Western response, or lack thereof, to the Russia-Ukraine war. Any sign of disinterest or failure from the West in supporting a sovereign, democratic nation under threat sets a precarious standard and signals that the U.S. remains an unassertive player on the international stage.
From the sidelines, no one is watching this war unfold more closely than President Xi Jinping of China. President Xi has made no secret of his desire to reclaim Taiwan to complete the “reunification of the motherland” and that such an undertaking is China’s destiny, which “must be fulfilled.” While Taiwan, similar to Ukraine, considers itself a sovereign state, China views the democratic island as a breakaway province. If Ukraine’s Western allies ease their response to Russia, and instead are viewed as passive partners, there is no reason for President Xi not to expect the same outcome should he decide the time has come to bring Taiwan under his rule.
It is worthwhile for Republican candidates to consider that while advocating a pro-Putin stance may resonate with a small faction of the GOP fringe, supporting cuts in assistance to a sovereign and democratic ally under attack will only weaken America’s leadership position within the global order. Similarly, if Putin were to escalate this conflict, potentially against a NATO member, the investments the U.S. has made since the onset of war would be trivial compared to the financial and security risks of engaging in a NATO-led war against Russia, which would constitute the foundation of a potential World War III.
 Matthew Continetti, “Internationalism and the American Right,” in The Future of Conservative Internationalism: A Collection of Essays from the Reagan Institute Strategy Group (Colorado: Reagan Institute, 2019), http://bitly.ws/DdYp.
 Jennifer Benz, Trevor Tompson, and Marjorie Connelly, “Continuing Support for U.S. Involvement a Year into the War between Russia and Ukraine,” AP-NORC Center, February 15, 2023, http://bitly.ws/DdZP.
 U.S. Congress House of Representatives, “Articles of Impeachment Against Donald John Trump,” House Resolution 755, One Hundred Sixteenth Congress, First Session, December 18, 2019, http://bitly.ws/De4a.
 “Joe Biden Launches His Campaign For President: Let's Finish the Job.” YouTube, uploaded by Joe Biden, 25, April 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChjibtX0UzU
 Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Background to ‘Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections’: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution, January 6, 2017, http://bitly.ws/Dgza.
 Michael Cohen, Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2020).
 Larence J. Korb, Brian Katulis, Sean Duggan, and Peter Juul, How Does This End?
Strategic Failures Overshadow Tactical Gains in Iraq, Center for American Progress, April 2, 2008, http://bitly.ws/DgC9.
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