Voters must understand where a candidate stands on important issues. But a cardinal rule is never to answer an ambiguous questionnaire from a cable news host noted for conspiracies and pro-dictator rhetoric. Gov. Ron DeSantis ignored this last week, and the fallout has been monumental.
In a transparent effort to assuage Donald Trump’s base, DeSantis adopted a dubious position on Ukraine by declaring:
“While the U.S. has many vital national interests – securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party – becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”
It is one thing for unserious Sens. Josh Hawley, Rand Paul, and J.D. Vance to espouse neo-isolationist lunacy. Still, DeSantis is a former military officer who is one of the best governors in America. As a congressman, he rightly supported Ukraine when Barack Obama dithered after Vladimir Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Did the governor’s naive advisers write this vacuous declaration? He and they should avoid the way-too-online right, which is as cliche as the out-of-touch hard left that ruined many 2020 Democrat presidential campaigns.
Regardless, DeSantis’s statement exhibits ignorance.
We should not need to remind supposed Republicans that America supports Ukraine because that’s in our national security interest. Putin wants to reconstitute and expand the Soviet Empire. Countries on NATO’s eastern flank realize the Russian dictator will not stop at Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the return on our investment is amazing, without a single American soldier’s boot touching Ukrainian soil; however, if Russia crosses into Eastern Europe, the United States will be required to send troops to defend against further Russian aggression. Someone should remind Tucker Carlson and DeSantis that it’s better to stop Putin in Ukraine without spilling American blood than engage in a shooting war.
Part of DeSantis’s response that received attention was an aberrant line that Putin’s attack on Ukraine is “a territorial dispute.” That’s offensive balderdash.
Russia illegally invaded a sovereign nation that’s led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands. The better argument is that Pres. Joe Biden, with his ignominious foreign policy record, is not doing enough to help Ukraine. America should be providing Ukraine all the tools it needs to defend itself and repel invading forces; Biden continuously seems reluctant to give Ukrainians the weapons they need.
DeSantis and the non-interventionist cabal — left and right — fail to realize that if Ukraine stops, Russia, China, and Iran are weaker; yet if Russia prevails, China and Iran become empowered. If disingenuous isolationists like Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and the CPAC fringe want to halt “the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party,” they should support Ukraine and realize we are taking the fight to Beijing via Moscow.
"DeSantis is completely wrong on this. This is not the time to get weak in the knees on Russia, which is what he's doing."
— 2024 GOP candidate Nikki Haley on the Florida governor calling Ukraine a "territorial dispute" pic.twitter.com/hc0nZrg5S7
— The Recount (@therecount) March 19, 2023
History can ignore foreign affairs, but it never ignores you.
We must fund our military to be the top global power and confront threats from our enemies. That requires a military so strong that no nation challenges it. Peace through strength — antithetical to what DeSantis articulated — is how wars are won before they begin. Antiwar Isolationism leads to more war and death. See 1941 and 2001.
DeSantis’s statement also was terrible politics. Instead of challenging populist grievance, he wants to echo it by opposing support for Ukraine? Trump’s most ardent supporters already swore their unyielding allegiance to the former president. A cultist doesn’t change his or her mind, no matter the failures.
If the Florida governor wants the GOP nomination, he must persuade, not offend, reliably-Republican voters because most Republicans — including leadership and key committee chairs — support Ukraine. DeSantis cannot succeed by claiming he’s a younger Trump without the losing and sordid baggage.
Next year should be a landslide defeat for the left. That means conservative candidates must answer tough questions accurately and differentiate themselves from Trump’s shortcomings; like attention-seeking Vivek Ramaswamy, DeSantis has not.
Ari Kaufman is a correspondent for several U.S. newspapers and magazines from Minnesota and Ohio to Tennessee and Virginia. He taught school and served as a military historian before beginning his journalism career. The author of three books, he is also a frequent guest on radio programs and contributes to Israel National News and here at The Lid.