How The Trump Campaign Weakened The Republican Platform On Aid To Ukraine | KERA News

How The Trump Campaign Weakened The Republican Platform On Aid To Ukraine

Aug 6, 2016
Originally published on August 8, 2016 6:54 am

One of the questions raised over the course of this year's presidential race is about how a President Trump would deal with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

One reason to wonder: the Republican Party platform's new language on policy towards Ukraine.

When Republican Party leaders drafted the platform prior to their convention in Cleveland last month, they had relatively little input from the campaign of then-presumptive nominee Donald Trump on most issues — except when it came to a future Republican administration's stance on Ukraine.

It started when platform committee member Diana Denman tried to insert language calling for the U.S. to provide lethal defensive weapons to the Ukrainian government, which is fighting a separatist insurrection backed by Russia. Denman says she had no idea she was "going into a fire fight," calling it "an interesting exchange, to say the least."

Denman is a long time GOP activist from Texas. When she presented her proposal during a platform subcommittee meeting last month, "two gentleman," whom Denman said were part of the Trump campaign, came over, looked at the language, and asked that it be set aside for further review.

She says after further discussion the pair "had to make some calls and clear it." She says they found the language was still too strong.

The Trump campaign convinced the platform committee to change Denman's proposal. It went from calling on the U.S. to provide Ukraine "lethal defensive weapons" to the more benign phrase "appropriate assistance."

It's more than semantics. Many Republicans have been demanding the Obama administration provide a more robust response to Russia's incursions in Ukraine.

Denman "was steam rolled," said Melinda Haring of the Atlantic Council, a Washington, DC, think tank, who believes the language the Trump campaign approved is weaker. And she says "it's anyone's guess" what Trump would do regarding Ukraine and Russia, and that perhaps he might not even back "appropriate assistance."

Haring was referring to Trumps appearance on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos last month, when Trump said Vladimir Putin is "not going to go into Ukraine, OK? Just so you understand, he's not going to go into Ukraine."

Of course, Russia did go into Ukraine when it invaded Crimea two years ago and backed separatist fighters in other parts of the country. Trump later said that he meant Putin would not go into Ukraine on his watch, if he were President.

Still, that comment raised eyebrows, especially combined with his campaign chairman Paul Manafort's past work for deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Putin ally.

Another GOP delegate on the platform committee, Rachel Hoff, is a national security analyst with the American Action Forum and believe the final platform language signals that a Trump administration would refuse to send lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.

"This puts Trump out of step certainly with Republican leadership but I would also say mainstream conservative foreign policy or national security opinion," Hoff said.

Republicans in Congress have approved providing arms to the Ukrainian government but the White House has resisted, saying that it would only encourage more bloodshed.

It's a rare Obama administration policy that the Trump campaign seems to agree with.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we have the story behind a curious change in the Republican Party platform. Republican Donald Trump has promised to be a strong president, yet the party platform became less tough on Russia. In particular, it reduced the level of support that would be promised to a government under pressure from Russia. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: When Republican Party leaders drafted the platform prior to their convention in Cleveland last month, they had relatively little input from the campaign of Donald Trump, except perhaps on the one issue, Ukraine. It started when platform committee member Diana Denman tried to insert language calling for the U.S. to provide lethal defensive weapons to the government of Ukraine.

DIANA DENMAN: I had no idea I was going into a firefight (laughter). But it has been an interesting exchange to say the least.

NAYLOR: Denman is a longtime GOP activist from Texas. Here's how she describes what happened when she presented her proposal during a subcommittee meeting.

DENMAN: Two gentlemen came over - that were attending our meeting came over and looked at it and discussed it with the chairman. And then one of the chairmen suggested to our committee and to me that it be set aside for further review, and it was.

NAYLOR: The two gentlemen were from the Trump campaign, who convinced the platform committee to change Denman's proposal that the U.S. provide lethal defensive weapons to the more benign phrase appropriate assistance. It's more than semantics. Many Republicans have been demanding the Obama administration provide a more robust response to Russia's incursions.

MELINDA HARING: She was steamrolled. She was absolutely steamrolled, and the Trump supporters found someone else to put another amendment forward with this weaker language with appropriate assistance.

NAYLOR: That's Melinda Haring with the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C., think tank. She says it's anyone's guess what Trump would do regarding Ukraine and Russia.

HARING: One could conclude from Donald Trump's recent statements that he might not even back appropriate assistance to Ukraine.

NAYLOR: Haring was referring to Trump's appearance on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS")

DONALD TRUMP: He's not going into Ukraine, OK? Just so you understand, he's not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it any way you want.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he's already there, isn't he?

TRUMP: OK. Well, he's there in a certain way. But I'm not there. You have Obama there.

NAYLOR: Of course, Russia did go into Ukraine, invading Crimea two years ago and backing separatist fighters in other parts of the country. Trump later said that he meant Putin would not go into Ukraine on his watch if he were president. Still, that comment combined with his campaign manager Paul Manafort's work for former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, a Putin ally, has raised eyebrows. Rachel Hoff is another GOP delegate who was on the platform committee. Hoff is also a national security analyst with the American Action Forum.

RACHEL HOFF: What this signals to me is that they would also refuse to send lethal defensive weapons. And this puts Trump, then, out of step with, certainly Republican leadership, but I would also say, mainstream sort of conservative foreign policy or national security opinion.

NAYLOR: Republicans in Congress have approved providing arms to the Ukrainian government, but the White House has resisted, saying that would only encourage more bloodshed. It's a rare Obama administration policy that the Trump campaign seems to agree with. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.