Trump's enabling of Ukraine aid passage offers RFK a big political opportunity

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) took a victory lap on the cable news circuit after the passage of the massive $95 billion foreign aid package this week, and both went out of their way to thank Donald Trump.

Noting “the loan component to this” aid package on Fox News Sunday, Graham stated flatly “this would not have passed without Donald Trump.”

This claim may cause cognitive dissonance among many Trump supporters who associate him with America-first opposition to continued funding of our proxy war in Ukraine, along with a corresponding insistence on stopping the migrant invasion by securing the porous U.S. southern border. But Graham’s assertion was clearly correct. Trump made sure Ukraine is being funded. 

Opposition to continued aid to Ukraine had been building for months. The bill was essentially stalled in Congress in February, when Trump floated the idea of making future aid to Ukraine into a loan. According to the Wall Street Journal, Graham and others quickly pounced on the proposal, strategizing behind the scenes with Trump to incorporate the absurd loan notion into the Ukraine funding bill to give it a new lease on life.

This undermined any chance of stopping new funding for an increasingly unpopular war and the subsequent overwhelming passage of the aid package last week in the House, with the notable absence of any U.S. border security measures. 

Voters have been attracted to Trump because they are exasperated by a bipartisan Washington establishment that continues to throw money at forever wars abroad while conditions at home deteriorate. And so this deals a serious blow to the idea that another Trump presidency will seriously challenge the reigning foreign policy orthodoxy, led as it is by the military-industrial complex. 

Voters objecting to an establishment beholden to arms manufacturers,rather than their own constituents, have only one presidential candidate left advocating an “America-first” approach, and that candidate is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. 

Unlike Trump, independent candidate Kennedy is calling for an immediate negotiated settlement to the Ukraine conflict rather than further escalation. He says he wants to use the resulting windfall to address America’s deteriorating infrastructure and the financial instability of families strapped by inflation, mounting personal debt and declining economic prospects.

Kennedy has also outlined a detailed plan for sealing the southern border and shutting down the migrant invasion.

That’s one reason why the prospect of Kennedy getting on the ballot in crucial swing states such as Michigan should concern Trump more than it does President Biden. Trump has capitulated to the powerful forces who wish to see an indefinite expansion and extension of the ruinous proxy war with Russia that the U.S. foreign policy establishment is conducting in Ukraine. This dramatically shifts the political landscape.

The Ukraine conflict is not the only issue where Kennedy threatens to poach potential Trump supporters. After the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade and returning the regulation of abortion to the states, pro- and anti-abortion activists have sought to re-nationalize the issue. They have tried to do this either by codifying Roe’s blanket legalization of abortion in federal law or by proposing federal legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks in all 50 states.

The former president has become embroiled in a conflict with pro-life maximalists within the GOP base for his opposition to a new federal ban. But Kennedy, whose independent status frees him from the policy constraints of the abortion-absolutist Democratic base, has carved out a moderate position on the vexed issue that threatens to soften the opposition of voters who had heretofore regarded him as an abortion advocate.

Last week, Kennedy put out a statement entitled “More Choices, More Life” that explicitly advocated policy changes that “will dramatically reduce abortion in this country…by offering more choices for women and families, not less.” Arguing that “we have to make our society as welcoming as possible to children and motherhood,” Kennedy calls for “redirecting the funds being spent on the war in Ukraine to subsidize community- and home-based daycares, along with stay-at-home parents.”

In addition to capping daycare costs at 10 percent of family income, Kennedy’s plan would fund only “single-location small [facilities] — as well as parents who decide to stay home with their children.” It would “not be available to corporate daycare chains or the hedge funds that own them.” He asserts that since “economics is a major driver of abortion, this policy will do more to lower abortion rates than any coercive measure ever could.”

Meanwhile, Trump is caught in the contradiction of proudly claiming credit for appointing the Supreme Court Justices who overturned Roe, while criticizing states like Arizona and Florida that have chosen to regulate it for damaging GOP prospects in a crucial election year. In the wake of Dobbs, pro-life voters key to the GOP base grumble that Trump has no agenda for actually reducing abortion, either by means of a partial federal ban or by using the bully pulpit to support state efforts.

Trump now has finally woken up to the danger of Kennedy becoming a spoiler in crucial swing states. In those states, Kennedy has a chance to win over disgruntled Trump voters disappointed with the former president’s stance on Ukraine, his continued promotion of the disastrous COVID vaccine, and his tepid rhetoric on pro-life issues. 

In a panicky social media post, Trump asserted that “RFK Jr. is a Democrat ‘Plant,’ a Radical Left Liberal who’s been put in place in order to help Crooked Joe Biden.”


Trump has largely changed his tune since last June when he praised RFK Jr. on the Howard Carr radio show. He called Kennedy “Smart” and  “A good man,” “Whose heart is in the right place; He’s a common sense guy and so am I.” The post continued, “Whether you are conservative or liberal, common sense is common sense.”

It is highly doubtful that such transparent smears, coming from a man whose campaign reportedly, at least according to Kennedy, reached out to offer him the vice presidential spot on his ticket, will do much to address the dangerous disaffection of his own voting base.

Blake Fleetwood is a writer and former reporter for The New York Times. 

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