DeSantis’s flip-flop: It’s all about Biden and 2024
The opposition by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) to the U.S. backing Ukraine’s fight against Russia is all about President Biden.
Former President Trump thinks it is all about him. He says DeSantis is imitating him. “Whatever I want, he wants,” Trump told reporters last week.
Wrong. It is all about Biden and the 2024 presidential election.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page — no Biden fan club — said it out loud last week. DeSantis favors a U.S. “retreat” from opposing Russia, the Journal wrote, because he thinks “many Republicans oppose helping Ukraine because Mr. Biden is doing it.”
That is true. This is all about Biden because a win for Ukraine on the battlefield is a political victory for Biden.
Without the president’s name attached to the policy, Republicans favor a strong stand against the Russian aggression. Last month, 66 percent of Republicans said they approved of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the man leading his country’s military resistance to the Russian invasion, with the aid of Biden’s policies.
When asked about U.S. support for Ukraine, 61 percent of Republicans told the same Fox News poll they approve of continued U.S. support for Ukraine with a limited “timeframe.”
When Russia’s assault on Ukraine began, there was clear Republican support for unlimited opposition to Russia. In the past year, Republican support has declined in one way: As the war rages, they somehow want to impose limits on its cost and duration. (Wouldn’t the Russians love to know the Republicans’ time limit?)
The reason for all of this is partisan politics. Republicans don’t want to give Biden any credit.
Even now, 36 percent of Republicans still tell Fox they want the U.S. to back the Ukrainians for “as long as it takes to win.” That puts them in line with the 50 percent of registered U.S. voters who want to stay involved for the long haul and the 66 percent of Biden Democrats, according to the Fox News poll.
That is Biden’s position. And it is a popular position.
“Biden is approaching majority approval for his handling of the Ukraine situation,” Chris Anderson, a Fox pollster, said last month. He added that, in the polarized world of today’s national politics, it is “noteworthy” that Biden or any other politician can get “majority approval for anything.”
In fact, Biden’s support among Republicans for his approach to the war has gone up in the last year to 24 percent. That does not sound like much support without realizing that Biden’s approval among Republicans in a recent Ipsos poll was 10 percent.
Since August of last year, approval of Biden’s leadership of the West’s support for Ukraine has also risen with Democrats to 74 percent, and among independent voters to 41 percent.
It is only when President Biden’s name is attached to U.S. support for Ukraine that the most partisan Republicans, Trump’s right-wing base, want to turn away from the fight.
DeSantis has wrongly concluded that he can attract Trump’s base by mimicking the former president.
Trump is playing grievance politics by blaming European countries for counting on U.S. leadership to rebuff Russia. “They are relying on the United States to largely do it for them,” Trump wrote in a policy statement to Fox. “This is very unfair to us.”
Unlike Trump, DeSantis has a history of supporting U.S. aid to Ukraine. As a member of Congress in 2014, DeSantis voted for the Ukraine Support Act, which authorized President Obama to send arms to Ukraine to repel Russia’s occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
The following year, 2015, DeSantis said on Bill Bennett’s radio show that “We in Congress have been urging the President … to provide arms to Ukraine. They want to fight their good fight. They’re not asking us to fight it for them.”
And last year, in the early days of the war, he called on Biden to get tough with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “This is a guy who basically is an authoritarian gas station attendant — OK?” he was reported as saying, and he advised Biden to “hit him where it counts.”
Now, DeSantis appears to be reading from a different set of notes. The governor’s current aim apparently is to keep Trump from calling him an establishment RINO (Republican in Name Only) for siding with conservatives such as Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
McConnell recently declared: “Republicans know that the safest America is a strong and engaged America.”
DeSantis distanced himself from that view by telling Fox News that Biden’s policies have the U.S. “entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) responded sharply: “It’s not a territorial dispute … any more than it would be … if the U.S. decided it wanted to invade Canada or take over the Bahamas.”
Rubio’s rebuke, along with the Journal’s criticism, indicates that joining with Trump’s position on Ukraine “may cost (DeSantis) with GOP voters who think he is bending in fear of Mr. Trump,” as the Journal’s editorial noted.
But as DeSantis gets ready to announce his run for the GOP presidential nomination, he seems to be focused only on the Trump base. He is selling himself to them as a new and improved version of Trump, a candidate with the same policies but without Trump’s baggage of lies, lawsuits and repeated election losses.
Yet what looks like a fight among Republicans is really GOP fear of Biden’s success in countering the Russians.
This lack of honesty will cost Republicans in a general election against Biden.
Juan Williams is an author and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.
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