The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion GOP nightmare: Biden’s handlings of war, Ukraine and democracy are popular

President Biden on March 8 at the White House. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
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Since President Biden took office, Republicans dedicated to his failure and the obstruction of virtually all of his initiatives have hypocritically criticized his failure to achieve “unity.” Ironically, Biden has done just that in his stalwart support of Ukraine, democracy and U.S. international leadership — all things defeated former president Donald Trump worked to undermine. Biden’s role as leader of a democratic alliance to support Ukraine may have serious consequences at home, as new polling shows the public rallying to Biden’s handling of the war.

A newly released Navigator poll finds that “majorities of Democrats (81%), independents (54%), and nearly two in five Republicans say he has made the right decisions (36%).” In addition, although 63 percent of all respondents say they were worried about “increased gas prices as a result of sanctions on Russia,” 86 percent still support the sanctions, including 60 percent who strongly support them. Ukraine and President Volodymyr Zelensky draw over 70 percent approval; more than 80 percent view Russia and President Vladimir Putin unfavorably.

The public’s memory seems to be sharper than that of Republican lawmakers, who are all too ready to whitewash Trump’s Russian appeasement (sycophancy, actually). Biden and Democrats are overwhelmingly viewed as pro-Ukraine (by a net +54 and +53 points, respectively) while Republicans (net +27) less so, and Trump not at all (net -8). “Roughly nine in ten [respondents] agree with statements about standing up to Russia, whether to protect democracy abroad or to stop Russia’s violent aggression,” Navigator reports. “On a statement that the U.S. should stay out of Ukraine, 56% disagree,” including 53 percent of Republicans.

Furthermore, voters understand the connection between Ukraine and support for democracy. A survey by a political data analytics firm, Citizen Data, shows that 78 percent of Americans see the Ukraine war as a fight for global democracy rather than solely as a regional conflict.

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Voters gave a score of 8 out of 10 to statements from Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) expressing strong support for Ukraine and opposition to Putin. (Biden denounced Russia’s “naked aggression.” Sanders dubbed Putin as “corrupt, reckless.” Romney declared, “He imprisons his political opponents, he has been an adversary of America at every chance he’s had — it’s unthinkable to me [to support Putin]. It’s almost treasonous.” Support was bipartisan, with nearly half of Republicans rating these statements 10 out of 10. By contrast, statements from right-wing media personality Charlie Kirk excusing Putin were rated unfavorably by both Democrats and Republicans. Finally, by a wide margin, voters say they’d like to see even stronger countermeasures against Russia, such as kicking it out of the United Nations, applying more economic sanctions and letting Ukraine join the European Union.

Collectively, this data suggests the Ukraine war may have strong implications for American politics and support for democracy more generally. First, in a highly polarized country, Americans have overwhelmingly rallied to the defense of democracy and rejected rationalizations offered on behalf of Putin. Democracy, which was becoming a partisan issue, now garners strong bipartisan affection.

Second, Republicans who have yet to break with Trump nevertheless reject his brand of Putin sycophancy, raising a question as to whether they would actually support someone so closely identified with Putin and who extorted democratic Ukraine. As former Trump officials remind us of Trump’s pro-autocrat obsequiousness, the pressure to dissociate from his anti-democratic, anti-NATO foreign policy intensifies.

Third, Biden has an opportunity to link U.S. support for democracy abroad with our devotion to democratic values and norms at home. Republicans’ authoritarian bent — condoning violence, supporting voter suppression and subversion — should be seen as a significant vulnerability. He needs to make a stronger connection between our example as the world’s leading democracy and our ability to rally the world against aggressive dictators.

Fourth, Biden’s leadership on Ukraine, projection of resolve and principled defense of democracy provide a path to improving his overall standing with voters. Making “democracy work” and improving the United States’ standing against illiberal regimes might now resonate more strongly with the public.

In short, in marveling at Ukrainians’ bravery and applauding Ukraine’s democracy, voters may rediscover their own appreciation for and dedication to American democracy and the common values that should transcend party lines. A renaissance of bipartisan, pro-democracy sentiment may be one of the many startling consequences of Russia’s invasion.

Watch Post Opinions’ new short doc about one family’s fight to free their loved one being held hostage abroad

When American Emad Shargi is taken hostage by Iran as a pawn in nuclear negotiations with the U.S., his wife and daughters must fight to free him. (Video: The Washington Post)