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Ron DeSantis jumps aboard the Trump-Carlson appeasement train

(AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis listens to others during a news conference where he spoke of new law enforcement legislation that will be introduced during the upcoming session, Jan. 26, 2023, in Miami.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) has finally figured out where he stands on helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s genocidal war. In agreement with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, DeSantis apparently decided that his political aspirations would best be served by jumping on the Trump train, which is headed down the appeasement track.

On March 14, DeSantis declared on Carlson’s show that the war is merely a “territorial dispute” that does not affect America’s vital security interests. So, like former President Trump, he would appease Putin by leaving the Ukrainians to fend for themselves.

Prior to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, it would have been the kiss of death for a GOP candidate to cozy up to Russia and its autocratic head of state. It is hard to forget President Reagan’s reference to the old Soviet Union as the “evil empire.”

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is every bit as bad, if not worse. What in heaven’s name could have made it possible for either Trump or DeSantis to get away with this political blasphemy, let alone to seek political gains from it? Perhaps it started with the inordinate number of contacts between the Trump campaign and a variety of Russians in the 2016 campaign. Jonathan Chait weaved an interesting narrative about Trump’s Russian connection in a 2018 New York Magazine piece.

Although Fox News executives initially had misgivings about Trump, like the rest of us they soon realized that a significant part of the Republican base was mesmerized by him and willing to blindly follow him. There was the potential for huge ratings and big money, regardless of what he was pushing. We have recently seen how that played such a part in Fox News’s coverage of the Jan. 6 riots. Fox gave the former president a giant megaphone on practically every issue he brought forward, including the Russia, Russia, Russia issue, as Trump often characterized it.

Trump seemed enamored by the Russian dictator throughout his presidency. Trump’s support among his supporters strengthened each time the Russia connection was raised.

Carlson and others in Fox world reinforced Trump’s view of Putin and Russia on their unending “news” cycle, dramatically changing long-held unfavorable attitudes toward both.

In the last couple of years, Tucker Carlson has become almost more adept than Trump at swaying the MAGA faithful toward a favorable view of Putin. He has paired that with a dismal view of Ukraine and its leader, Volodymyr Zelensky. Indeed, Carlson has become the most prominent primetime spokesman for playing up Putin and playing down Ukraine.

Even before the Russian invasion last year, Carlson had cast his lot with the Russians. On Nov. 25, 2019, he told his audience, “Why do I care what is going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia? And I’m Serious. Why do I care? Why shouldn’t I root for Russia? Which I am.” 

During the last year, Carlson has continued on that same track — praising Russia and disparaging Ukraine. He harps about corruption and oppression in Ukraine, while whitewashing Russia. He has claimed that Putin is winning the war between the two countries, that sanctions against Russia will ruin America’s economic standing in the world and even that Zelensky was shameful for wearing battle fatigues to Washington.

Carlson’s views have played well to his captive and captivated MAGA audience, substantially weakening GOP support for Ukraine. Carlson has also become a smash hit with Putin’s propaganda machine. On March 3, the Kremlin told its media friends: “It is essential to use as much as possible fragments of broadcasts of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson…” Carlson and Fox are all over Russian media. One of Carlson’s Russian fans gushed that he was “one American” who shouldn’t be killed.

It is troubling that the two leading Republican candidates for president are favorable to Russia in this conflict. Trump came into the presidency with that view. Carlson joined him, then DeSantis joined them in the apparent hope of inheriting the support of Trump’s base. Trump’s affinity for Putin seems to be based on some unknown mutual interest, but the positions of Carlson and DeSantis appear to be cynically grounded in their perceived self-interests.

Most Republican officials who have a basic understanding of foreign affairs and the value of the Atlantic Alliance, NATO and world peace, come down solidly on the side of Ukraine. Many GOP members of Congress have expressed great concern about DeSantis’s recently announced position. Fewer are willing to voice the same concerns about Carlson and Trump for fear of retaliation. The majority of the GOP must become more vocal about this issue before it is too late.

A recent poll found that 78 percent of Republican voters favor either Trump or DeSantis for the 2024 nomination. With both presently riding the appeasement train, it provides great comfort to Putin and serious concerns for U.S. national interests.

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served eight years as Idaho attorney general (1983-1991) and 12 years as a justice on the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017). He is a regular contributor to The Hill.

Tags Appeasement Donald Trump Fox News Ron DeSantis Ron DeSantis Russia Russia-Ukraine war Trump v. DeSantis Tucker Carlson Tucker Carlson Ukraine United States Vladimir Putin Vladimir Putin

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