Back in February, when Russian troops were lining up on the border for a brutal invasion, Trump-endorsed Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance insulted Ukrainians on Steve Bannon’s podcast, “I gotta be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.” He later doubled down, saying, “spare me the performative affection for [sic] the Ukraine, a corrupt nation run by oligarchs.” And then, after backlash, doubled down yet again. This was, after all, the prevailing attitude amongst Republicans after years of Trump’s fealty to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The problem here, putting aside the callous disregard for humanity, involves the GOP’s recent “war on math.” There are over one million Ukrainian Americans in the United States, which is a relatively small voting bloc but a powerful one based on where they are located. Their diaspora is disproportionately concentrated in politically significant Midwestern urban areas such as Cleveland and Detroit. Pennsylvania is home to the second-largest population of Ukrainian Americans, only behind New York. In Ohio, the Ukrainian community runs through the northeast suburbs like Parma. Someone finally must have mentioned this to Vance, who is furiously trying to backpedal his previous insults on Ukraine.
For decades, this important voting bloc has helped push Republicans over the edge in key states due to their conservative inclinations on issues like smaller government, defense, and anti-communism. This year, however, all bets are off because this community is now seething. Ohioan Andriy Futey, president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, told the Washington Post that Republican anti-Ukrainian rhetoric has changed things. “I could see this alone being a determinant factor when people go to vote,” he said. The problem is that Republicans just don’t know how to stop their hate. If Democrats don’t capitalize on this, we will be committing political malfeasance.
It’s no secret that Donald Trump has disgracefully debased himself to Putin for years. As Trump’s former White House press secretary admitted, Trump always felt “intimidated” by Putin. However, his continued devotion to Putin has been unforgivable since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Trump just couldn’t help himself by once again gushing over how Putin is a “genius,” “smart,” and “very savvy” for attacking his neighbor. Even after the war crimes Russian troops committed at Bucha came to light, Trump continued to praise Putin as “driven”—right before directly asking Putin for campaign help by releasing information on Hunter Biden, the president’s son.
To be fair, Trump isn’t the only Republican in Putin’s pocket. Other sycophantic legislators soon followed suit. Florida’s Matt Gaetz whined about having to send money to Ukraine, and North Carolina’s (soon-to-be former rep.) Madison Cawthorn trashed the Ukrainian president by calling him a “thug.” Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene actually blamed Ukraine for getting itself invaded. Greene also told the Ukrainian people it was pointless for Ukraine to resist because Russia will eventually win. (This proves the point that people who talk the loudest about guns are usually the biggest cowards.)
Right-wing pundit Candace Owens promoted false Russian propaganda that Ukraine “wasn’t a thing” until 1989. (It actually has a long history.) Yet it was Fox News’ Tucker Carlson who emerged as Russia’s biggest cheerleader. Carlson, who has been so pro-Putin he is regularly featured on Russian state television, promoted ridiculous conspiracies on his Fox program. These include claims that the United States was secretly funding biological weapons labs in Ukraine and that the entire reason Putin invaded was really America’s fault because we supported Ukraine’s push to join NATO. In case there was any doubt as to where Carlson stands, he also loudly proclaimed he was “rooting” for Russia to win the war.
This dangerous mindset has taken root in the Republican party. On April 29, multiple House Republicans voted against a bill that sought to create a lend-lease program that would make it easier for the U.S. to send military aid to Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion.
Over in the Senate, an appalling 31 Republican senators voted against giving aid to Ukraine. All Democrats voted for both measures.
While the pro-Russia/anti-Ukraine message might still motivate many in the GOP base and has been championed by several prominent Republicans like Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, it has alienated an entire community that was solidly Republican and has created a split within the party. This situation has devolved into Republicans attacking each other.
Lindsey Graham openly contradicted Trump by remarking, “Putin’s not a genius. He’s a war criminal.” North Carolina Senate candidate Pat McCrory went hard after Trump-endorsed Ted Budd on Ukraine including a television ad that announced, "While Ukrainians bled and died ... Congressman Budd excused their killer!" McCrory also included clips of Budd describing Putin as "a very intelligent actor" who had "strategic reasons" for the invasion. Nonetheless, McCrory lost his state’s GOP primary to Budd on June 15.
In Ohio, the right-wing Club for Growth hit Trump-endorsed Vance very hard during the Senate primary. In the end, that didn’t pay off for them either, as Vance won his primary. Yet unfortunately for Vance, he only managed to garner 37% support amongst GOP voters, which is weak for a victorious candidate. On the flip side, over 70% of Democrats backed Tim Ryan in their primary.
Unlike Vance, Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan is pro-Ukraine and has been that way from the beginning. He has even called for sending Ohio-built tanks to Poland to help deter Russia.
This new political dynamic has created a huge opening for Democrats in the Ohio Senate race. Ohio should be a slam dunk for Republicans, as many people have left the state, leaving behind its rural base. Yet Northeast Ohio has around 80,000 Ukrainian immigrants and descendants who don’t appreciate the Republican candidate disparaging their homeland and people.
Parma, a suburb of Cleveland, was key to Trump’s victory in Ohio in both 2016 and 2020. This community is now preparing for an influx of Ukrainian refugees in the coming months. They know full well who is helping them and who isn’t. Politico interviewed multiple conservative Ukrainian Americans who now say that the GOP can no longer count on their vote.
Even far-right conservatives, such as a Fox News-watching pastor at a Ukrainian church in nearby Youngstown, Ohio, have had enough. The pastor wrote an open letter to Tucker Carlson asking for an apology for his repeated attacks on Ukraine.
“The reason why I am writing to you is to express my disdain at your seemingly biased anti-Ukrainian statements that you recently made on your shows regarding the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
I think your comments not only offend us, Ukrainians, but also the millions of Ukrainian people who have been murdered by the Soviets and Russians throughout the course of history.”
He was ignored, and Tucker never apologized.
Meanwhile, the Democratic super PAC American Bridge launched a Ukrainian-language ad campaign against Republicans on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The print ad buy ran in newspapers in several major cities with large Ukrainian American populations. The PAC president, Jessica Floyd, said in a statement to The Hill that “Republicans at every level—from Donald Trump to their Senate candidates—have gone on the record to belittle Ukraine and Ukrainians and to praise war criminal Putin. It’s disgusting and it’s wrong.”
Here in Florida, there is a large Ukrainian community in Sunny Isles, Florida, near Miami. The Florida Democratic Party touted an op-ed by Ukrainian Floridians criticizing Florida Senator Marco Rubio for skipping out on a year’s worth of critical hearings concerning Russian aggression in Ukraine by the Helsinki Commission, a European security group of which he is a member.
Marco Rubio is currently locked in a tight race with Democrat Val Demings. Demings has been strongly supportive of Ukraine during this conflict. Rubio, on the other hand, voted against aid for Ukraine. Even worse, Rubio literally endangered President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s life by sharing a screenshot of a Zoom call despite pleas from Ukrainian and American intelligence officials beforehand not to do so. After being called out by both sides of the aisle for his stunt, Rubio still refused to take the image down.
I should point out that although the Ukrainian American community is the most directly affected by the war, they aren’t the only ones. Georgian Americans who have fled to the U.S. have also rallied for Ukraine as they have experienced their own horror at the hands of Russian aggression. They too are not happy about the Republican Party’s capitulation to Putin. Yet it's the Polish Americans who can arguably be described as Ukraine’s most ardent supporters.
One of the largest Polish communities in the U.S. has been organizing donations to send refugees to Poland, which has opened its borders to them. This community, called “Little Poland,” renamed their district “Little Ukraine” in solidarity for the victims of the conflict. Poland has a shared history of struggle with Ukraine. They both suffered mightily against the brutal occupations of the Nazi and Soviet regimes.
Polish Americans are also a key swing state demographic, as they are concentrated in Northeast states near large industrial centers like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. A majority of Polish American voters in the United States have traditionally identified as conservative Democrats, but in 2016 swung toward Trump. In 2019, in a blatant effort to lock down their vote, Trump added Poland to the Visa Waiver Program that allowed Polish citizens to travel to the U.S. without a visa.
Up until recently, the nation of Poland had been more aligned with the agenda of Donald Trump. Poland experienced its own attacks on liberal democracy, such as with the free press, independent courts, the EU, and minority rights. Poland seemed to admire Trump’s authoritarian ways. The Polish president, Andrzej Duda, even suggested naming a military base in Poland after Trump.
Yet the Russian invasion changed everything overnight. President Duda has since vowed to work closely with President Biden, who has visited Warsaw along with Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Poland has become the top ally for NATO in the current war by accepting over 2 million refugees and sending a ton of military equipment to Ukraine. Biden’s strong commitment to fund and support Poland’s efforts to assist Ukraine hasn’t gone unnoticed, as he was praised by one of the largest Polish American organizations in the United States.
Democrats need to highlight these glaring differences in our approach to these communities. It’s both important and effective. Besides, the GOP has been targeting immigrant communities for years with blatant dishonesty. For example, the Florida GOP had no problem pouring propaganda into immigrant communities in South Florida smearing Democrats as “socialists.” This was remarkably successful as it played into the fears of South American immigrant communities who fled Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.
But Democrats don’t need to lie or smear. The GOP has openly praised Putin and insulted Ukraine for many years now. Although they have the right to do that, Democrats and progressive organizations have the right, and the duty, to remind these communities of not just what Republicans have said and done regarding Ukraine but discuss what will happen to that nation if the GOP manages to take one or both chambers next fall.
One party stands united with Ukraine. The other party has shown significant and despicable fealty to Russia and Putin. Vote accordingly.