Rarely have the failures of the Democratic Party produced a more yawning opening for Republicans to reclaim leadership. What Robert Gates called “America’s thirty-year holiday from history” has come to an abrupt and bloody end. It’s been decades since the United States faced converging crises, both foreign and domestic, on the scale we are seeing today. From the paralyzing self-flagellation, porous borders, and ruinous energy policies at home, to the rising threats abroad of a militarizing China and Putin’s devastating war on Ukraine, Americans confront a scary, complicated landscape.
Rarely has there been such an opportunity to engage the American public on this host of threats. Putin’s war has made us aware again of the carnage despots are capable of unleashing. And the knock-on effects at the gas pump have brought home just how far this war reaches. Ever-tighter cooperation between China and Russia, both eager to dethrone America and the dollar, as well as an emboldened Iran and the free radical of a nuclear North Korea, loom large.
The unceasing horror of this war has illustrated the heightened risks facing the West when America doesn’t lead. With each passing day the insult to our humanity deepens, and the West’s ineffectual response to scenes of civilian tragedies in Mariupol is sickening Americans. Yet there is no strategy to direct all that toward the goal of reviving and fortifying the free world, not only against Russia, but against other strategic competitors.
Where is the clarion call from Republicans for renewed commitment to freedom and the rule of law? Republicans should be using the shock we’ve had to the system to offer a strategy that mobilizes our domestic strengths as well as our military heft in order to keep America—and the international economy—secure. Current environmental, social, and governance policies are making this insecurity worse—the delta between supply of renewables and energy demand is only growing, driving spiraling inflation across a host of sectors.
And in the meantime someone is going to pump oil. The United States has the highest environmental standards in the world. If we are going to undertake this energy transition shouldn’t U.S. energy providers be harnessed for this process, rather than importuning sanctioned states like Venezuela and Iran who can’t possibly be adhering to the same standards? Why empower our opponents? It’s China who controls a significant portion of the metals critical to batteries and more importantly, the processing thereof. Republicans should be formulating policies that will unwind the ludicrous levels of regulation and punishment that the current administration is bent on inflicting, and instead incentivize private sector research and development in order to jump-start production.
All of this self-harm contributes to the insecurity Americans suddenly feel. Our current set of checkerboard sanctions, random humanitarian assistance, and the fanfare over taking all of 100,000 Ukrainian immigrants—Poland alone, with its population of roughly 37 million, has already accepted over a million Ukrainian refugees—will do nothing to slow the slaughter down in Ukraine. None of this amounts to a strategy. And Americans know it. But so far there’s no alternative out there.
U.S. materiel support for Ukraine is only now forthcoming, three months into this war. There is much discussion of Biden’s success in orchestrating allied support for Ukraine, but despite announcements of multiple aid packages, Ukraine has only received $4.6 billion in budgetary support. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund estimates Ukraine will need $15 billion over the next three months to prop up finances.
The Speaker of the House made it to Kiev (months after EU President Ursula Von der Leyen visited) where her Congressional delegation promised support “until victory is won.” While it’s tricky for Congress to fulfill that pledge on its own, in any event, somebody should be asking how this might square with administration policy?
On another dangerous front, Congressional Republicans have announced unity against the forthcoming disastrous Iran deal—though under the caveat that they can’t undo anything unless and until they get control of both Houses. But that’s not a strategy. That’s excuses.
The global opprobrium over Putin’s murderous war is the national crisis that Republicans cannot afford to waste. U.S. leadership has the opportunity to lead a newly-unified West that is suddenly focused on its own vulnerability: According to the Financial Times, Britons now place defense and security, which had always lagged in the low single-digits just behind health, as a national priority. Be it the tragic chaos of our departure from Afghanistan, the groveling to Moscow and Tehran to get an Iran nuclear agreement at any price, or the Biden policies of too little and too late, America’s signaling of weakness is by now endangering us all.
There’s much speculation as to what Chinese President Xi Jinping is making of America’s response. If he concludes that the West is prepared to sacrifice Ukraine rather than run the risk of a larger conflagration with Putin, how much greater might he assume the incentives will be to avoid provoking conflict with China, with all its economic leverage?
At least the United States has had no role in facilitating the partners-for-life alliance between Russia and China. But it’s beyond comprehension why this administration in fact is facilitating it: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has given “written assurances” that Russia’s military-technology alliance with Iran will remain exempt from all sanctions on either state. We don’t really know what is in this deal—the American’s aren’t even allowed in the room. It is being negotiated through intermediaries, who include the Russians and the Chinese. The Russians have modestly described their success in this role—according to the top Russian negotiator, “Iran got much more than it could expect, much more. Our Chinese friends were also very efficient and useful co-negotiators.”
That statement alone should make everyone pause. Such an accommodation risks unleashing a whirlwind of terror on the United States and her allies, yet it seems the Biden administration has the power to sign away any leverage the United States may have. Republicans should be using every conceivable forum to warn of the foreseeable consequences.
Voters typically find foreign policy issues too remote to engage with, but with such risks looming large, Americans deserve one or two clarifying narratives. Posing these questions in Republican circles typically generates shrugs and head-shaking as to how paralyzed the party leadership is “until Trump decides.” But the notion that the party’s future is left in Donald Trump’s hands is, quite simply, gutless. Trump will keep doing what he’s been doing—railing about stolen elections. That’s neither a narrative for future policy nor of broad or unifying interest to the voters. Surely somewhere is a leader who, in the spirit of Ronald Reagan, will offer Americans a clear-cut strategy to navigate this suddenly very challenging landscape.
A playbook is at hand. Putin’s murderous calculus may change this, but elections in America are typically won on domestic issues. Last summer, outsider Glenn Youngkin threw his hat into the Virginia gubernatorial race and quickly grasped the import across constituencies of a vital issue: education. Right now, Republicans could drive a semi through public backing of the teachers’ unions, which has long provided critical support for Democratic candidates. Outrage is especially present among immigrants and the most socially and economically challenged citizens‚ precisely the constituencies Democrats claim to represent.
Equally important, Youngkin gracefully but deftly kept Trump at a distance. And he certainly didn’t wait around to be anointed. He campaigned on his convictions, and he didn't water them down. He spoke straight to the voters; he addressed their concerns. He won.
Devon Cross is president of Logos Forum LLC and a former member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. She has never worked for or with the Republican Party.
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