In the years since Donald Trump was elected, a variety of Republican politicians, writers, and think tanks have declared that his positions constitute a new kind of conservatism. It’s often referred to as the “America First” ideology and accompanied by the claim that the GOP is, or is becoming, a party for “working people” rather than “the establishment”—and that the interests of working people don’t include intervention abroad.
A central plank of the America First platform, born out of candidate Trump’s claim that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, is that MAGA Republicans shouldn’t support “endless war” or “forever war”—particularly the deployment of U.S. troops in the Middle East, or the provision of weapons and other aid to Ukraine. While president, Trump himself had to be talked out of withdrawing from NATO, the U.S.’s most significant commitment to common international defense; earlier this year, he claimed to object to the perpetuation of the war in Ukraine on humanitarian grounds, arguing that he would negotiate its end in short order were he to hold office again. Senators such as Missouri’s Josh Hawley and Ohio’s J.D. Vance have denounced the U.S.’s support for the besieged European nation as a waste of resources that would be better put toward security at the U.S.–Mexico border or deterring China, while Hawley has complained about the United States’ involvement in “constant intervention” around the world and its “massive, permanent presence in the Middle East.” The abortive America First Caucus in the House wrote in its would-be founding manifesto that “sending taxpayer money outside of the nation is generally an unwise undertaking and an entanglement that rarely provides any benefit to our citizens.”
More broadly, this wing of the party has been dismissive of the idea that regular Americans have an emotional interest in the protection of populations abroad. In their view, concern for the plight of Ukrainians is sometimes denounced as an affectation of “globalism”-friendly cosmopolitans who identify more with the interests of elites in other countries than with regular Joes and Janes in the heartland. As Vance famously told right-wing operative Steve Bannon during last year’s Ohio Senate primary, “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other.” (He has since said the invasion of the country was a “tragedy” and that he is sympathetic to what Ukrainians are experiencing.) Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who now heads an organization called America First Legal, told Tucker Carlson with disdain that Ukraine support was the product of “a fetish in Washington for the citizens of foreign countries.”
These positions have appealed to the conspiratorial, online “alt-right,” whose members believe the Ukraine war has been orchestrated by globalists, neoconservatives, or just plain Jews in order to profit from military spending or inflict death and immiseration on “white” populations. Given the tendency of conspiracy theories to overlap, some of the individuals who hold these beliefs have coalesced behind the presidential candidacy of anti-vaccine ex-Democrat Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has said that Russia was “acting in good faith” toward Ukraine before it was provoked into war by the U.S. (He, too, has denounced the act