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DeSantis struggles to make up his mind about Putin, war in Ukraine

It’s not just that Ron DeSantis keeps taking contradictory positions on Russia’s war in Ukraine. He’s also showing that he can be bullied into shifting.


As the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential field takes shape, it’d be a mistake to think each of the candidates are in lock step on every issue. One leading contender, for example, recently expressed relative indifference toward Russia’s war in Ukraine, calling it “a territorial dispute” that’s unrelated to the United States' “vital” interests.

Voters heard soon after from a GOP contender who sees Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal” who must be “held accountable.”

The confusing thing is, both of these Republicans happen to be the same person. NBC News reported:

After having downplayed Russia’s war against Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” in remarks to Fox News, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis changed course in a new interview by calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” who needs to face consequences for his actions. “I think he is a war criminal,” DeSantis told Piers Morgan in an interview published Wednesday in the New York Post, adding: “I do think that he should be held accountable.”

Trying to nail down what the governor’s position on the issue has been like playing a whack-a-mole game at an amusement park: The Floridian keeps popping up in entirely different places.

DeSantis’ original position came into focus when he was still in Congress, at which point he supported sending U.S. military aid to Ukraine, and even criticized the Obama administration for not doing more to support our Ukrainian allies.

Last month, his position started to evolve a bit, and DeSantis publicly denounced the idea of a “blank-check policy” toward Ukraine, which the governor insisted was “not acceptable.”

Last week, as part of an apparent effort to impress Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, the Florida Republican went much further, calling the war “a territorial dispute.” DeSantis said the United States “has many vital national interests,” but as far as he was concerned, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine wasn’t one of them.

This sparked a fair amount of pushback from Republicans — which is not the sort of thing the governor is accustomed to hearing — though the Kremlin was reportedly delighted with DeSantis’ rhetoric.

All of which set the stage for this week, and his newly minted position, which bears little resemblance to what he said last week.

For those keeping an eye on the race for the GOP nomination, none of this will help inspire confidence in the Floridian. Indeed, for those wondering whether DeSantis is really ready for prime time, the fact that he’s struggled with this straightforward issue reinforces doubts that he is not.

But let’s also not overlook what we’re learning about DeSantis and his ability to be pushed around.

The governor, ignoring his original position, took a misguided stance that impressed Carlson and Moscow. After getting slammed by many prominent voices in his own party, DeSantis adopted a qualitatively different position, that seemed to contradict everything he’d said a week earlier, suggesting he’s willing to cave under pressure.

As the Fox News host mocks the governor’s latest shift, it’s an open question as to whether DeSantis might change his mind yet again.