DeSantis rattles establishment GOP after saying US interest in Ukraine-Russia war is not ‘vital’

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ comments about U.S. support for Ukraine during its war with Russia have rattled the cages of establishment Republicans.

DeSantis’ remarks, which came amid increasing speculation that he will enter the 2024 race for the White House, came in response to a series of questions from Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson to 2024 GOP candidates or hopefuls about their stance on the ongoing war between the two countries.

“While the U.S. has many vital national interests… becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them,” DeSantis told Carlson.

Noting that “peace” should be the objective in the war, the popular Sunshine State governor insisted 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,” adding that providing F-16s and long-range missiles would be “off the table.” He also noted that American “citizens are also entitled to know how the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are being utilized in Ukraine” and knocked regime change policy as being “popular among the D.C. foreign policy interventionists,” suggesting Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s successor “would likely be even more ruthless.”

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Though he has not officially declared that he will seek the GOP nomination for president next year, DeSantis’ comments drew immediate scrutiny from a handful of Republicans who have consistently signaled their support for Ukraine as it works to fend off Russian aggression – including former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis.

Cheney, a former member of the January 6 Select Committee and an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump, said DeSantis “is wrong and seems to have forgotten the lessons of Ronald Reagan.”

“This is not ‘a territorial dispute,’” Cheney said in a statement, according to the New York Times. “The Ukrainian people are fighting for their freedom. Surrendering to Putin and refusing to defend freedom makes America less safe.”

“Weakness is provocative and American officials who advocate this type of weakness are Putin’s greatest weapon. Abandoning Ukraine would make broader conflict, including with China and other American adversaries, more likely,” added Cheney, who lost her bid for re-election last year to pro-Trump Republican Rep. Harriet Hageman.

In a rebuke of DeSantis’ remarks, Rubio, who has represented Florida in the Senate since 2011, appeared on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, where he suggested the Republican governor is inexperienced in dealing with foreign policy.

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“Well, I don’t know what he’s trying to do or what the goal is,” Rubio said. “Obviously, he doesn’t deal with foreign policy every day as governor. So I’m not sure…. I mean, 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.”

Graham is also frustrated with DeSantis’ remarks, telling the Times that he “could not disagree more” with the governor’s characterization of the impact of the Ukraine-Russia war.

“The Neville Chamberlain approach to aggression never ends well,” said Graham, drawing a comparison between DeSantis and the British prime minister who worked during his tenure to appease Adolf Hitler. “This is an attempt by Putin to rewrite the map of Europe by force of arms.”

Similarly, Cornyn told Politico he was “disturbed” by DeSantis’ remarks and claimed it was “important for us to continue to support Ukrainians for our own security.”

“I’m disturbed by it. 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.”

Echoing Cornyn, Tillis also told Politico that he disagrees with DeSantis’ comments.

“Yeah, I disagree,” he said. “I think we have to look better than just the conflict in Ukraine. There’s a humanitarian crisis. There are war crimes being committed.”

February figures from the Ukrainian government showed the U.S. leads all countries with $196 billion in total military, financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine between Jan. 24 and Nov. 20, 2022. Germany has sent the second-most funds, $172 billion, in the same time period.

Earlier this month, polls from The Associated Press, Pew Research and Fox News showed rising skepticism toward the massive aid packages the Biden administration has delivered to Ukraine. Support for such aid among Americans fell from 60% in May 2022 to just 48% today, according to the AP.

Meanwhile, the share of Americans who say the U.S. has already given too much to Ukraine has risen from just 7% in March 2022 to 26% today, according to Pew.

Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn, Anders Hagstrom, and Lawrence Richard contributed to this article.

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