Ron DeSantis’ sudden lurch into a position opposing U.S. assistance to Ukraine may unravel his own 2024 coalition and introduce splits into the entire GOP, as I explained at New York:
Cynics have wondered if Ron DeSantis’s recent emergence as a populist culture warrior is a bit of an opportunistic act meant to help him both sideline and co-opt Donald Trump’s MAGA movement in the 2024 presidential race. After all, before Trump helped lift him to the Florida governorship, DeSantis was a congressman with a conventional conservative profile. He was a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus back when its claim to fame was a favoring fiscal austerity even if that meant cutting popular retirement programs (as Trump has acidly pointed out). DeSantis’s recent antics could be seen as an attempt to attract both Trump supporters and Republicans who have had enough of the 45th president but know that some Trumpism is necessary to win the election.
If that’s his play, DeSantis may have taken it a bit too far in his recent about-face on Ukraine, which he broadcast in an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson. As my colleague Jonathan Chait explains, the governor didn’t just hedge his strong support in Congress for U.S. aid to Ukraine or criticize Joe Biden’s handling of the conflict. Nor did he only describe Ukraine’s plight as the lesser of competing priorities — as he has done in the very recent past. No, he systematically went through the isolationist catechism on Ukraine, describing Russia’s aggression as a “territorial dispute” in which both sides are at fault while denouncing U.S. aid as “wasteful” and our whole posture as risking nuclear war.
This all sounded pretty familiar, Trump immediately noted, saying that DeSantis is “following what I am saying. It is a flip-flop. He was totally different. Whatever I want, he wants.”
Nikki Haley, another announced candidate in the 2024 Republican presidential contest, agreed. “President Trump is right when he says Governor DeSantis is copying him — first in his style, then on entitlement reform, and now on Ukraine. I have a different style than President Trump, and while I agree with him on most policies, I do not on those. Republicans deserve a choice, not an echo,” Haley said in a statement, per the Washington Examiner.
More generally, the backlash to DeSantis’s comments on Ukraine from key members of the Republican Establishment in the U.S. Senate was quite intense — with Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, Marco Rubio, John Thune, and Mitt Romney all deploring his new position with varying degrees of heat. Former governor and 2016 presidential candidate Chris Christie went furthest, saying that DeSantis “sounds like Neville Chamberlain talking about when Germany had designs on Czechoslovakia.”
One of conservatism’s major media pillars, The Wall Street Journal editorial board, blasted DeSantis for a “puzzling surrender this week to the Trumpian temptation of American retreat,” comparing his indifference to Russian aggression unfavorably to Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” posture toward adversaries like the Soviet Union. The editorial’s headline calls this DeSantis’s “first big mistake,” reflecting its perceived importance.
DeSantis is even getting serious guff over his Ukraine repositioning in the pages of National Review, which is often described as a “fanzine” for the Florida governor. National Review regular Noah Rothman denounced DeSantis’s statement to Carlson as “weak and convoluted” and “likely to haunt DeSantis in both the primary campaign and, should he make it that far, the general election. Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is a ‘dispute’ over territory in the same way a bank robber and depositor have a ‘dispute’ over money.” Just as telling was National Review senior political correspondent Jim Geraghty’s defensive treatment of the Ukraine flip-flop as a piece of cheap campaign demagoguery that DeSantis would likely abandon if he actually makes it to the White House.
One pertinent question is how GOP voters feel about Ukraine and U.S. support for the beleaguered country. As Charlie Sykes notes, the party’s rank and file are divided: “A Pew poll in January found that 40 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents think the United States is giving too much aid to Ukraine, a number that has been steadily rising. But 41 percent still thought that we were not giving them enough, or that the aid was ‘about right.’” That means the sweet spot for GOP candidates is probably to attack Biden for all-purpose “weakness” — saying he emboldened thugs like Vladimir Putin, then overcompensated by making commitments to Ukraine that may exceed legitimate national interest. DeSantis has clearly gone beyond that safe posture and into America First disdain for the whole “dispute.”
The risk for DeSantis is more than just stoking doubts among some GOP primary voters, who are probably more interested in his anti-woke crusade in Florida than in what sort of foreign policy he might pursue in office. And the issue isn’t that he’s “copying” Trump, though that’s not a good look either. The bigger strategic problem is that DeSantis is trying to put together a mind-bending coalition that includes some Trump supporters as well as anti-Trump Republicans. Senator Mitt Romney, for example, seemed to hint recently that it was time for other potential candidates to give DeSantis a clean shot at the reigning champ.
What DeSantis is saying about Ukraine is precisely the kind of thing that could repel many anti-Trump Republicans or drive them into the arms of other candidates. And other GOP candidates will likely be quick to exploit a joint DeSantis-Trump position on Ukraine that alienates some GOP voters and a lot of GOP elites. Mike Pence is especially likely to join Haley in speaking out on the issue, as his mantra has been that “there is no room in this party for apologists for Putin.” In seeking to co-opt Trump on this issue, DeSantis may be shrinking what looked like a very big tent of post-Trump Republicans who looked to him as ringmaster.
Once again, Democrats are doomed part # 12.
I’ve been involved in Democratic politics as a strategist and campaigner since 1972. You were a ray of light after the 2000 election. I bought your book and read it twice. What you wrote has come true, yet you seem upset about it.
During the bad old 1980’s, I remember us getting buried in high growth suburban areas. I case you forgot in the 1984 Presidential election, Ronald Reagan got a higher % of the vote in Connecticut than he did in Alabama. The real story is how Clinton was able to move northern and western suburbanites into the Democratic Party in 1992 & 1996. Then, how Al Gore & John Kerry kept those gains, and how Barrack Obama expanded them to most of the rest of the country and How Hillary Clinton & Joe Biden expanded this into the deep South and Sunbelt. Dobbs, which you rarely mention, hyper accelerated this trend.
The “populism” of trump is a long-term losing strategy. The republicans are in much the same position as William Jennings Bryan was at the turn of the 20th century. Bryan was the hero of rural voters in the west and plains states and promised what seemed like radical solutions to problems out of what was then the mainstream. Bryan scared the majority in the population centers which caused the Democrats to go to minority status for the next 36 years. Democrats started to take the big cities in 1928 and have never looked back. As you well know change brings some backlash. Democrats may not be able to carry Elliot County Kentucky, or Belmont County Ohio, but they can expand margins in Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte.
Every policy pushed by Democrats has helped isolated rural white rural populations from Obamacare, to child tax credits and caps on medical costs. All we can do is sell what we have done and push for more things that help rural Americans.
I would ask you what have the republicans done for rural white people. Please give us specific examples of what Democrats have pushed that are culturally bad for rural voters. We need more of the optimism of a Simon Rosenberg and a Ruy Texiera circa 2006!
Tom Chumley, you seem to have conflated “rural” with “working class.” Teixeira did not use the word “rural” even once in his discussion of the Democrats’ difficulties with working class voters, yet you used it five times. You did not use the term “working class” once, while Teixeira used it nine times. Rural is a location, working class is a social class. They overlap like a Venn diagram but they are not the same thing.
You are correct. I was thinking more on a county level than demographic level. The rural counties far from big cities tend to match working class stats rather closely.
My problem with Texiera is not his accuracy or information. As usual he is well researched and the details he provides are important. Where he departs from this is saying that over and over again is that Democrats are campaigning on issues that MAGA republicans say Democrats are doing without providing any evidence. republicans have been throwing false narratives at Democrats for 50 years. If the message is how to attack the false narratives aggressively, I’m all for that. Teixeira seem to accept these republican stereotypes as true.
If I didn’t know anything about what has happened in the last three cycles and only read Ruy’s columns, I would think that the Democrats had lost everything and the few victories Democrats had were only due the republican mistakes.
I could compare his columns this year to someone writing an analysis of the 1972 Presidential election and gushing on and on about how well George McGovern did in university counties which were republican voting only a few years previous. That would be a fine article to write, but you have to mention the fact that McGovern only carried about 120 odd counties and lost 49 states, which was far more important.
The good things Democrats have done electorally since 2017 have far outweighed the negatives. A little more of the whole picture would be appreciated.