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McConnell looks to cement legacy as ‘Reagan Republican’ with crusade for Ukraine support

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is planning to devote much of his energy in the remaining months of his term as Republican leader, as well as the next few years of his term, to ensuring Ukraine is supported as its war with Russia rages on. 

‘It may not be fashionable now, but I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican: peace through strength,’ the longtime Senate GOP leader said during a speech in Shelbyville, Kentucky, per local outlet the Kentucky Lantern.

McConnell has been a proponent of continued support for Ukraine, even after members of his party began to push back. 

‘Mitch McConnell is a Reagan Republican through and through,’ said Republican strategist Doug Heye. Therefore, its unsurprising that he is ‘standing strong on those principles,’ he said.

But not everyone equates Ukraine support with republicanism in the image of former President Reagan. According to Republican strategist Matt Dole, ‘Reagan republicanism, or any label that is historical in nature, is not driven by one issue or one vote.’

He posited that such labels have been used by some ‘as a way to encourage people to their side.’

‘I don’t think a senator voting for or against aid to the Ukraine takes them closer or further away from the legacy of Ronald Reagan,’ he added. 

Speaking to a local radio station last week, McConnell said Ukraine and preventing Russia’s advances would be ‘the main part of my focus in the coming years.’ 

He said Ukraine’s war presents ‘a worldwide problem for democracies.’ 

‘McConnell understands the long game that Russia is playing,’ explained Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, former top spokesperson to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and former chief of staff of the Senate Republican Conference. 

According to Grant Reeher, professor of political science at Syracuse University, it’s likely that McConnell ‘really believes in the importance of standing up to Putin and preserving the integrity of Ukraine’s sovereignty, and wants to have that as his ‘last act.” 

At the same time, ‘it would be a moment of statesmanship that would also help frame the way he is remembered’ as McConnell and his generation pass the baton, Reeher said.

McConnell said during his radio interview that Ukraine’s fate is a global issue and that ‘they need our leadership, and we need their partnership.’

He also decried the growing wave of ‘isolationist’ sentiment among his Republican colleagues. He acknowledged his fellow Kentuckian, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., as one of those perpetuating the movement. 

Paul’s office was contacted by Fox News Digital but did not provide comment.

‘A growing number of his colleagues are now looking at Ukraine through a populist outlook of how sending foreign aid abroad helps their constituents back home,’ explained Bonjean. 

However, McConnell’s focus toward Ukraine may be rendered unsuccessful ‘unless there is a concerted effort to make the connection between sending foreign aid to Ukraine and protecting American interests,’ he said.

Without this, the leader’s anti-isolationism campaign may ‘be a losing fight over time.’

Dole also noted the leader’s ‘influence immediately waned upon his announcement that he intended to step down.’ This, in part, will make it hard to unify the conference on ‘an issue that they’ve always disagreed about.’

McConnell revealed his decision to step down from the role of party leader in November after his term in the position ends. His stepping aside presents an opportunity for the Senate GOP to select a new leader and potentially chart a far different path. 

The Kentucky Republican is the longest-serving party leader in Senate history, having maintained the title since his election in 2007. 

Dole further disputed the idea that Republicans have shifted toward isolationism, instead suggesting that the divided stances on Ukraine aid represent ‘discernment.’

‘McConnell has earned the right to try to convince the caucus of his position,’ he said, but added, ‘His last battle will be uphill.’

John Mark Hansen, the Charles L. Hutchinson distinguished service professor and interim chair for the department of political science at the University of Chicago, echoed that ‘isolationism never really went away, particularly among the electorate.’

Instead, Hansen said, what has occurred is a Republican retreat from ‘support for NATO and defense against Russian expansionism.’ This is due to former President Trump’s influence, he said.

‘I don’t think it’s something the base feels strongly about,’ he said. Therefore, McConnell is in a better position ‘to make a stand.’

‘He’s not alone. Speaker [Mike] Johnson is clearly willing to take a risk in supporting aid for Ukraine,’ Hansen said. 

‘Isolationism may be en vogue right now, but peace through strength and not abandoning our allies are principles still shared among a lot of the Republican Party, including many of McConnell’s conference colleagues,’ Heye said. 

A $95 billion supplemental bill with aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan passed the upper chamber in February with 70 votes in support. However, nearly all the 29 votes against the measure were Republicans, highlighting the divided conference.

The Senate minority leader has called on the House to similarly pass the measure.

McConnell’s office did not provide comment to Fox News Digital.

This post appeared first on FOX NEWS

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