The Republican Party establishment erupted in anger at Florida Governor Ron DeSantis after he told Tucker Carlson Ukraine is not a vital interest of the U.S. and the White House should be trying to broker peace instead of offering a “blank check.”
Carlson, the Fox News host, asked several prominent potential 2024 GOP presidential candidates a half-dozen questions, including one about their stance on Ukraine. In his 369-word answer on Ukraine, DeSantis wrote that a secure southern border, military readiness, energy independence, and countering the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party are among the nation’s vital national interests, but becoming further entangled in a “territorial dispute” between Russia and Ukraine is not.
“The Biden administration’s virtual ‘blank check’ funding of this conflict for ‘as long as it takes,’ without any defined objectives or accountability, distracts from our country’s most pressing challenges,” DeSantis told Carlson. “Without question, peace should be the objective.”
DeSantis had previously criticized the Biden administration, which has pledged at least $113 billion in aid to Ukraine, for providing a “blank check” with little or no accountability for how the money is spent. But his expanded comments in the answer to Carlson put him at odds with GOP hawks, including potential 2024 rivals Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, and Liz Cheney, as well as Republican Senators Marco Rubio, of Florida; Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina; Thom Tillis, of North Carolina; and John Cornyn, of Texas.
DeSantis’ answer also drew fire from former President Trump, who like DeSantis has called for peace but who has increasingly gone after DeSantis as polls show the two atop the 2024 polls. Trump claimed that DeSantis had “flip-flop[ped]” on the issue based on remarks he made in 2015, some seven years before Russia’s ongoing invasion.
The 2015 remarks to which Trump referred were made after Russia seized Crimea following a revolution that toppled pro-Russia Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych. DeSantis, who was a congressman and served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the time, urged the White House to provide arms to Ukraine in order to help the country defend itself. In his latest comments, DeSantis did not call for the U.S. to stop arms shipments to Ukraine, but said those weapons should only be used to defend Ukrainian territory and not mount offensives into Russia.
Haley, the former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the U.N., accused DeSantis of mimicking Trump’s stance.
“President Trump is right when he says Governor DeSantis is copying him — first in his style, then on entitlement reform, and now on Ukraine,” said Haley, who did not provide answers of her own to Carlson. “I have a different style than President Trump, and while I agree with him on most policies, I do not on those. Republicans deserve a choice, not an echo.”
Christie, the former New Jersey governor who ran for president in 2016, also criticized DeSantis, claiming that the Florida governor “sounds like Neville Chamberlain talking about when Germany had designs on Czechoslovakia.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who also ran in 2016, noted in an interview with Hugh Hewitt that DeSantis “doesn’t deal with foreign policy every day as governor.”
“I don’t know what he’s trying to do or what the goal is,” Rubio said. “I can’t compare that to something else he did or has said over the last few years, because he doesn’t deal with it every day. But I will say to you that in terms of my view of the overall issue is I think there’s nuance, because foreign policy is about nuance.”
DeSantis told Carlson the U.S. objective in Ukraine should be establishing peace. He said that the U.S. “should not provide assistance that could require the deployment of American troops or enable Ukraine to engage in offensive operations beyond its borders,” warning that direct conflict between the U.S. and Russia could lead to nuclear war.
“That risk is unacceptable,” he said.
DeSantis said pushing for regime change in Russia, which he said is favored by “DC foreign policy interventionists,” also increases the likelihood of nuclear war by raising the stakes of the conflict. Ousting Russian President Vladimir Putin could also result in an even worse regime in Moscow, he said.
DeSantis also blamed the Biden administration’s policies for driving Russia and China into an alliance.
Although recent polls have shown Americans’ support for funding the war in Ukraine softening, establishment Republicans, the Biden administration, and Democrats in Congress all support Ukraine’s effort to repel the Russian invasion. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called the war in Ukraine the “most important” issue facing America. The Biden administration has been cool to the idea of trying to broker a peace deal, insisting the U.S. will fund Kyiv for “as long as it takes.”
Graham, who called for Russian military jets to be shot down this week after they caused a U.S. military drone to be downed, echoed Christie’s comparison of DeSantis to Chamberlain, the World War II-era British prime minister known for his infamous insistence on appeasing Nazi Germany.
Cornyn said that he was “disturbed” by DeSantis’ position.
“I think he’s a smart guy. I want to find out more about it, but I hope he feels like he doesn’t need to take that Tucker Carlson line to be competitive in the primary,” Cornyn said. “It’s important for us to continue to support Ukrainians for our own security.”
Tillis said the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and alleged war crimes by Russia obligate the U.S., and Cheney, the former House member from Wyoming whose war against Trump made her a party pariah and led to her 30-point blowout loss in last year’s re-election primary, claimed DeSantis had “forgotten the lessons of Ronald Reagan.”
“This is not ‘a territorial dispute,’” Cheney said. “Weakness is provocative and American officials who advocate this type of weakness are Putin’s greatest weapon.”