Ron DeSantis’ Ukraine comments tease 2024 run, expose a divided GOP

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis greets people before speaking at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley on March 5.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appears likely to run for president in 2024.

DeSantis has reportedly indicated privately that he will launch a bid for the White House. A former Trump administration official has announced a new political action committee intended to encourage a DeSantis bid. And DeSantis even made a trip to California this month to court influential conservatives and promote his new book.

These are all strong indications that DeSantis will run.

But comments that the Florida governor made about Ukraine this week make it even more clear that he has aspirations beyond the Sunshine State — and that he’s not afraid to break with his party on certain issues.

What do DeSantis’ comments on Ukraine indicate about the Republican Party?

Hello, my name is Erin B. Logan. I cover national politics for the L.A. Times. This week, we are going to talk about DeSantis, Ukraine and the 2024 presidential election.

A “territorial dispute”?

Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine last February, U.S. backing for Ukraine’s defenders has been a bipartisan affair. Republicans joined Democratic lawmakers in giving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a standing ovation last year after he made an emotional appeal for additional weapons and funding.

One year later, only a small number of Republican members of Congress seem to have wearied of supporting the Ukrainian war effort. In February, 10 House Republicans backed Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz’s resolution to end U.S. aid to Ukraine.

So far, however, Democratic and Republican congressional leadership has remained almost unfailingly behind Ukraine.

Enter DeSantis, who this week broke with his party’s leadership, arguing that backing Ukraine should not be an American priority.


In a Monday night interview on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” DeSantis said that America “has many vital national interests: securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness with our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural and military power of the Chinese Communist Party.”

But, “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them,” DeSantis said, adding that the invasion is just a “territorial dispute.”

This stance has little impact coming from the lips of a Florida governor. But if he becomes commander in chief, DeSantis could easily halt U.S. support for Ukraine.

A party divided

DeSantis’ comments have already incensed many on the Hill. Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn said he was “disturbed” by the governor’s comments, adding that he believed the governor to be a “smart guy” but that he hoped “he feels like he doesn’t need to take that Tucker Carlson line to be competitive in the primary,” according to Politico.

“It’s important for us to continue to support Ukrainians for our own security,” Cornyn added.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida rejected the suggestion that the war is a “territorial dispute,” saying that “it’s not a territorial dispute … anymore than if the United States decided that it wanted to invade Canada or take over the Bahamas.”

“Just because someone claims something doesn’t mean it belongs to them,” Rubio said. “This is an invasion.”


DeSantis’ stance is novel for him. But he is not the only presidential hopeful making clear he would not prioritize Ukraine if elected president.

In response to a questionnaire sent by Carlson, former President Trump said that opposing Russia in Ukraine is not vital for national strategic interest, “but it is for Europe.” He added: “That is why Europe should be paying far more than we are, or equal.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, another likely 2024 candidate, told Carlson he supports the American effort. “There is no room for Putin apologists in the Republican Party,” he said.

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who announced her bid last month, reportedly said that the nation would fare better with a Ukrainian win rather than a Russian one.

Democrats, meanwhile, are largely united on this issue.

Congress and the Biden administration have thus far given Ukraine more than $112 billion in aid. In Kyiv, Ukraine last month, President Biden indicated that the aid would not stop flowing on his watch.

Speaking alongside Zelensky, Biden said that the war is a reminder “that freedom is priceless; it’s worth fighting for for as long as it takes.”

Biden added: “And that’s how long we’re going to be with you, Mr. President: for as long as it takes.”


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The latest from the campaign trail

— California’s 2024 primary election is less than a year away, yet no prominent Republican has announced plans to seek California’s open U.S. Senate seat — another sign of the decline of a onetime GOP powerhouse that produced two presidents and four governors in the span of just over a half-century, Times writer Seema Mehta reported.

Pence on Saturday harshly criticized Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, widening the rift between the two men as they prepare to battle over the Republican nomination in next year’s election, the Associated Press reported.

— Less than a year after DeSantis signed a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, he’s showing support for an even stricter ban introduced this week by state lawmakers, the Associated Press reported.

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The view from Washington

— Biden said Monday that the U.S. banking system is “safe and secure” following the failure of Silicon Valley Bank and closure of Signature Bank last week, Times writer Courtney Subramanian reported. Biden blamed the bank collapses on Trump’s 2018 decision to scrap some Obama-era banking rules.


— Nearly two years after Biden nominated him to be ambassador to India, former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti may finally get a confirmation vote in the Senate, Times writer Jennifer Haberkorn reported. Since Biden nominated him in July 2021, Garcetti’s nomination has been stalled over questions about whether he should have known that a top City Hall aide was allegedly sexually harassing colleagues.

— Biden is expected to sign an executive order Tuesday aimed at increasing the number of background checks to buy guns, promoting better and more secure firearms storage and ensuring that U.S. law enforcement agencies get the most out of a bipartisan gun control law enacted last summer, the Associated Press reported.

— Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was released from the hospital Monday after treatment for a concussion and will continue to recover at an inpatient rehabilitation facility, the Associated Press reported. It is unclear how his extended absence will affect Senate proceedings.

The view from California

— An investigation by Times writers Liam Dillon, Benjamin Oreskes and Doug Smith found that Los Angeles Councilman Kevin de León‘s relationship with a housing nonprofit and his failure to disclose his financial ties raise a potential conflict-of-interest concern, political experts say. They believe his actions could have left city staffers with uncertainty about whose interests he was serving — the city’s or his then-employer’s.

— House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, making a homecoming appearance in front of California Republicans on Saturday, said that after his successful yet protracted fight for the gavel, both he and the GOP emerged as a tougher and more formidable political force in Washington, Times writer Seema Mehta reported. McCarthy had to grant numerous concessions to Congress’ most conservative members to win the speakership, and even then it took 15 rounds of voting — the first time in a century that a speaker was not elected on the first ballot.

— A California appeals court reversed most of a ruling invalidating Proposition 22, the state’s 2020 voter-approved gig economy law allowing giant ride-hailing and delivery companies to classify their workers as independent contractors rather than employees, Times writer Suhauna Hussain reported.

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