Florida governor and likely presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has said further support for Ukraine is not in America’s “vital national interests”, in a clear break with congressional Republicans that underscores a growing rift between isolationists and hawks that could threaten future aid to Kyiv.
In a statement issued to Tucker Carlson, the firebrand Fox News host who has used his primetime television show to praise Vladimir Putin and cast doubt on US support for Ukraine, DeSantis described the war as a “territorial dispute”, and said that “becoming further entangled” was not in America’s “vital interests”.
“The Biden administration’s virtual ‘blank cheque’ 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 added.
DeSantis has not yet formally declared he is running for president in 2024. But the 44-year-old Florida governor and former congressman has seen his stock rise in recent months after cruising to re-election in a nearly 20-point victory in last November’s midterm elections, when most other high-profile Republicans disappointed at the ballot box.
DeSantis, who made two appearances in the key early voting state of Iowa on Friday, is expected to officially jump into the race at the end of Florida’s legislative session, later this spring. Opinion polls consistently suggest he is the Republican best positioned to take on Donald Trump, the former president who declared his candidacy shortly after the midterms and continues to top most polls of likely Republican primary voters.
Trump has long espoused isolationism and increasingly attacked the White House over its handling of the conflict in Ukraine. In his own statement to Carlson, the former president said Russia would “definitely not have raided and attacked Ukraine” if he were still in the White House.
Trump insisted that Europe “must pay at least equal to what the US is paying to help Ukraine” and pay the US back “the difference” between what Washington and Europe have already committed to the effort.
“This fight is far more important for Europe than it is for the US,” Trump added.
Trump and DeSantis’s comments highlight a growing divide among Republicans on Capitol Hill, many of whom have been vociferous supporters of US support to Ukraine, and the party’s leading presidential contenders. Opinion polls suggest the public’s support for aiding Ukraine has softened slightly since the start of the war last year.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, has been a vocal proponent of continued support for Kyiv, and in a statement marking the first anniversary of the war last month said it was “not an act of charity for the United States and our Nato allies to help supply the Ukrainian people’s self-defence”, describing the aid instead as a “direct investment in our own core national interests”.
However, Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Speaker of the House who is in a position to hold up future aid packages given his party’s control of the lower chamber of Congress, has struck a more isolationist note, saying there should be no “blank cheque” for Ukraine.
McCarthy has also refused to visit Ukraine, declining an explicit public invitation from Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who told CNN this month that the Speaker “has to come here to see how we work, what’s happening here, what war caused us, which people are fighting now, who are fighting now”.
In response, McCarthy told CNN: “I don’t have to go to Ukraine to understand where there’s a blank cheque or not . . . I will continue to get my briefings and others, but I don’t have to go to Ukraine or Kyiv to see it.”
When asked about DeSantis’s comments on Tuesday, John Kirby, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, pointed to president Joe Biden’s speech in Warsaw last month on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
He said those remarks explained “why supporting Ukraine in their self-defence is in our national interests and the interests of our allies and partners around the world”.
“If we were just to lay back and let Putin take Ukraine — which make no mistake, he hasn’t pulled away from — if we just lay back and let that happen, where does it stop?” Kirby added.