Conservative Americans blame Biden for Putin's actions in Ukraine

In Fauquier County, which voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, residents say Joe Biden was 'too weak' to deter Russia from military action

Jim Hoovler fills up petrol cans out of fear prices will rise following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Willy Lowry / The National

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At a Shell station on the outskirts of Warrenton, Virginia, Jim Hoovler fills three jerry cans with petrol. The 56-year-old is convinced prices, which are already high, will skyrocket now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has moved into Ukraine.

Mr Hoovler, like many in Warrenton, blames President Joe Biden for failing to deter Mr Putin.

“There were other measures we could have done that could have persuaded Putin not to do this,” he tells The National. “I think it’s just weak leadership on the US side.”

Warrenton is in Fauquier County, which voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

It's an hour’s drive from the nation’s capital, but a world away from the liberal enclave.

Entering the county from Washington along route 15, the first house you pass has a flag denouncing Mr Biden, while a few hundred metres down the road, another house proudly displays the Gadsden flag, a revolutionary war symbol that has become associated with the country's far right.

“This shouldn’t even have got to this point; all the signs were there,” said Dan Riley, a Warrenton resident who spent 22 years in the US Army.

Mr Riley worries that war in Europe will have major consequences for the US.

“I'm worried about our country,” he said. “I’m worried about inflation, I’m worried about our military.”

The veteran's concerns stem from a belief that Mr Biden is not up to the task of navigating the US and its allies through what is the most significant military escalation in Europe since the Second World War.

A recent poll by Politico suggested that about half of Americans blame Mr Biden to some extent for the situation in Ukraine.

The poll, which was published before the Russian invasion, showed 58 per cent of Americans would blame Mr Biden if the conflict causes petrol prices to climb.

A popular Warrenton diner was buzzing on Thursday morning over the situation in Ukraine. Even though the town is almost 8,000 kilometres away from Kiev, the Russian invasion was still a major topic of conversation among the diner's regulars.

Jim Armstrong digs into breakfast in Warrenton, Virginia. Mr Armstrong blames President Biden for allowing Russia to invade Ukraine. Willy Lowry / The National

Jim Armstrong told The National over breakfast that the Biden administration is a “bunch of amateurs” who were “playing checkers” while Mr Putin “played chess".

Mr Armstrong, who last voted Democrat in 1976 for Jimmy Carter, said this would not have happened if Mr Trump were still in office.

“Putin would never have done this under Trump,” Mr Armstrong told The National. “Putin has known Biden for a long time and he knows he’s been feckless and weak.”

He added that the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan likely served as a green light for Mr Putin to begin planning his invasion of Ukraine.

And that sentiment is shared by many Republican leaders.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed the Afghanistan withdrawal as well as Mr Putin's imperial ambitions for the current situation. But he also made it clear in comments on Thursday that “we’re all together at this point and we need to be together about what should be done".

He called for sanctions on Russia to be “ratcheted all the way up".

While some Republican leaders have shown support for Mr Biden, Mr Trump has openly complimented the Russian president's moves, describing them as “smart”.

“[Mr Putin] has taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions. I'd say that's pretty smart,” Mr Trump said at a Take Back Congress Candidate Forum hosted at the resort in Palm Beach, Florida on Wednesday.

“Putin is playing Biden like a drum. It is not a pretty thing to watch,” Mr Trump said in another statement.

In Warrenton, though many residents express disdain for Mr Putin, they seem to side with Mr Trump when it comes to Mr Biden's actions — or lack thereof.

“I think [Mr Putin] took advantage of the situation,” said Mr Hoovler as he finished filling up his last jerry can.

“When [former president Barack] Obama was there, he knew Obama wouldn’t do anything and then when Trump came into power, he knew Trump wouldn't stand for it.

“But now you have got Biden who is even weaker than Obama.”

Mr Biden, whose wavering political fortunes will take centre stage in November's congressional midterm elections, addressed the cost of the Ukraine crisis, saying he would authorise releases from the strategic oil reserve "as conditions warrant".

"I know this is hard and that Americans are already hurting. I will do everything in my power to limit the pain the American people are feeling the gas pump," he said on Thursday as he announced new sanctions on Russia.

"This is critical to me. But this aggression cannot go unanswered."

Updated: February 25, 2022, 7:12 PM
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