Op Ed: Trump has Offered to Negotiate Peace in Ukraine, but he is no Wendell Willkie

Chicago Tribune – October 20, 2022

Former President Donald Trump has offered to negotiate peace between Russia and Ukraine, a bizarre concept that illustrates just how far America has fallen from the days when leaders of both major parties collaborated to support global democracy.
Eighty years ago, in the midst of World War II, Republican leader Wendell Willkie traveled around the world on a tour that Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt backed in an effort to bolster America’s attack on fascism. Willkie’s trip, which lasted from August to October 1942, was a stunning display of America’s powerful bipartisan defense of democracy.
Like Trump today, Willkie was his party’s most recent unsuccessful presidential nominee – he lost the election of 1940 – and was preparing another run for the presidency. Despite the risks, FDR provided a US Army plane and crew for Willkie’s trip, explaining that it would show the world “we have unity, and that we are going all out.”
Willkie was part of a Republican alliance with Roosevelt that included former Republican Secretary of State Henry Stimson, who in 1940 became FDR’s Secretary of War. The two Republicans helped convince Congress to approve FDR’s Lend Lease program for sending arms to America’s allies.
Trump made his suggestion about negotiating an end to the war in Ukraine on September 28, shortly after an explosion damaged gas pipelines beneath the Baltic Sea. He wrote on his Truth Social website, “Do not make matters worse with the pipeline blowup. Be strategic, be smart (brilliant!), get a negotiated deal done NOW. Both sides need it. The entire World is at stake. I will head up group???”
Trump’s musing might be rejected as just another in a spate of wishes that the war would stop. Even the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, has offered a peace plan – on Twitter! But there are signs that some people consider Trump’s involvement a good idea.
On October 11, Viktor Orban, the conservative prime minister of Hungary, embraced the concept that Trump could resolve the conflict. “The hope for peace is Donald Trump,” Orban said.
Trump is oddly suited for such a role. He and Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin are cut from the same cloth. They dismiss the tenets of democracy and the rule of law, valuing instead untrammeled power. In February, when Putin announced he was sending Russian forces into Ukraine, Trump praised the move as “genius” and “savvy.”
Trump’s bond with Putin might give him an entrée to urge the Russian dictator to stop his criminal war. By all means, Trump should have at it. He probably has a private phone number for his strongman pal Vladimir.
In May, Russia banned Biden and nearly 1,000 other Americans from entering Russia – but not Trump. So Putin could now easily invite Trump to the Kremlin for talks.
Donald Trump, however, is no Wendell Willkie. Far from supporting America’s allies in the struggle against fascism, Trump has opposed sending Ukraine aid. In May, when Congress was debating sending $40 billion in aid to Ukraine, Trump derided the bill and 11 of his Republican followers in Congress voted against it.
In contrast with Willkie’s clarion call for democracy, Trump has lauded Putin and other foreign dictators. Trump also tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election, sending his supporters to the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to further his anti-democratic plot. Trump is not an apostle of democracy — he is its nemesis.
It is true that President Biden would be wise to draw from FDR’s playbook and collaborate closely with prominent Republicans to protect democracy. That’s because there are signs that the Republican Party, which is expected to control the House of Representatives in the next Congress, will turn against aid to Ukraine.
Biden could, for instance, forge a bipartisan alliance in support of Ukrainian democracy with the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who visited Kyiv with other Republicans in May and who has vigorously supported military aid for Ukraine.
But it would be both morally bankrupt and politically unwise for President Biden to bring the the Republican Party’s leader, Donald Trump, into any effort to negotiate for peace and democracy in Ukraine.