In the Heart of Trump Nation, Ukraine Strikes at the Core of the America First Philosophy

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STEUBENVILLE, OHIO — Here in the heart of US President Donald Trump’s Midwest stronghold, in a state where rural and working-class voters feel the brunt of economic stagnation, many Republicans saw rising gas costs as a minor price to pay for defending Ukraine.

“I believe we are not doing enough,” Mary King, a jobless caregiver, said in response to President Joe Biden’s last-week restriction on Russian oil. She spoke as she awaited the arrival of Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance for a campaign event in this industrial city on the Ohio River.

“Inquire of the public what they are willing to give up,” King continued. “I pray to St. Nicholas every day for the protection of the children in Ukraine who are in danger.”

Upstate, in Strongsville, a firmly Republican suburb of Cleveland with one of the state’s largest Ukrainian populations, the feeling was similar.

“It is not going to cripple us,” retired cardiac technician Bob Heinly said of the probable increase in gas costs as a result of the ban, speaking after Vance concluded a town hall event there. “I invest in causes that are meaningful to me.”

King and Heinly, who were interviewed alongside more than a dozen other Ohio Republicans about the US reaction to Russia’s conflict against Ukraine, classified themselves as Trump supporters. Their remarks signal a break with the “America First” mentality that helped Trump handily won the state twice.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll issued last week, Americans support an oil boycott on a broad and nonpartisan basis, condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin, and have favorable views of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. However, on the right-wing of the Republican Party, powerful voices continue to advocate alternative narratives about the Russian invasion and the US reaction.

Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, has dabbled in pro-Putin conspiracy theories. Representative Madison Cawthorn, R-North Carolina, recently referred to Zelenskyy as a “thug.”

Vance — a venture businessman and author whose memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” positioned him as an observer of economic and cultural injustices in the industrial Midwest and Appalachia — is another prominent opponent of Ukrainian assistance. Before the invasion, he stated that he was unconcerned about what transpired in Ukraine.

Vance has now retracted some of his earlier statements, but he continues to voice the fear that isolating Putin will pull Russia and China closer together. Vance also draws moral parallels with the situation on the US-Mexico border, responding to news that Congress was on pace to approve over $14 billion in aid to Ukraine with a plea for additional cash for a border wall.

“We must first address our own problems,” Vance stated in an interview here. “I believe that message is really strong and is not incompatible with assisting the Ukrainians.”

Shannon Burns, head of the Strongsville GOP, a grassroots organization frequently aligned with the Republican establishment in Ohio, sees concerns with the Ukraine-Mexico connection.

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