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Biden Went to Kyiv; DeSantis Went to Fox & Friends

Ron DeSantis finds the wrong side of Ukraine.
February 21, 2023
Biden Went to Kyiv; DeSantis Went to Fox & Friends
US President Joe Biden (C-L) walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C-R) at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral during an unannounced visit, in Kyiv on February 20, 2023. - US President Joe Biden promised increased arms deliveries for Ukraine during a surprise visit to Kyiv on February 20, 2023, in which he also vowed Washington's "unflagging commitment" in defending Ukraine's territorial integrity. (Photo by Evan Vucci / POOL / AFP) (Photo by EVAN VUCCI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Gross things can happen when you convince yourself that, no matter what, you must position yourself in complete opposition to your political opponents. Just look at what Ron DeSantis is doing.

Before pursuing elected office, DeSantis was a Yale undergrad-turned-Harvard legal scholar, a history teacher, and a military officer. So, one would think his first reaction to President Biden’s surprise visit to war-torn Kyiv to show solidarity with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky would be, at a bare minimum, to show some respect for the Ukrainian resistance and maybe hold off on the self-serving commentary for a few hours.

That is not the choice DeSantis made. Instead, the Florida governor, who aspires to be president himself, decided to position himself in front of the cameras of Fox & Friends to . . . wait for it . . . blame Biden for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

DeSantis said:

I don’t think any of this would have happened, but for the weakness that the president showed during his first year in office, culminating, of course, in the disastrous withdrawal in Afghanistan. So I think while he’s over there, I think I, and many Americans, are thinking to ourselves, okay, “He’s very concerned about those borders halfway around the world. He’s not done anything to secure our own border here at home.” We’ve had millions and millions of people pour in, tens of thousands of Americans dead because of fentanyl, and then, of course, we just suffered a national humiliation of having China fly a spy balloon clear across the continental United States. So, we have a lot of problems accumulating here in our own country that he is neglecting.

We could get into the requisite back-and-forth about how it was really former President Donald Trump who emboldened Russia by coddling Putin and holding up congressionally approved aid to Ukraine. Or how, in a quainter era, domestic political disputes would stop at the water’s edge.

But what DeSantis is doing is far more cold-blooded and detached.

The crimes against humanity that Russia has committed in Ukraine are heinous. Putin has indiscriminately attacked civilian targets and summarily executed Ukrainians, piling them into mass graves. His troops have abducted and deported thousands of Ukrainian children. Accounts of rape and torture are numerous and well documented.

It is difficult to summarize all of Putin’s war crimes, which Ukraine alleges are at least 58,000. Each one represents a level of cruelty that is difficult to fathom. But Putin’s savagery is not in dispute.

Known evidence of his butchery includes:

None of those incidents came up during DeSantis’s interview.

The hosts wanted to know if it was a “good move” for Biden to visit Ukraine, and that’s when DeSantis blamed Biden for not appropriately focusing on domestic priorities.

One of the hosts prompted DeSantis by asking: “We’ve seen incoherence from this administration. No defined policy on Ukraine, no defined objective of what winning, you know, looks like. I think a lot of Americans are asking how much more money, how much more time, how much more human suffering?” (Whose “suffering” the Fox host meant was unclear.)

DeSantis proceeded to criticize Biden for supposedly having a “blank check policy” when it came to aiding the Ukrainians in the fight to protect their homeland:

They have effectively a blank-check policy with no clear, strategic objective identified. And these things can escalate, and I don’t think it’s in our interests to be getting into a proxy war with China, getting involved over things like the borderlands or over Crimea. So, I think it would behoove them to identify what is the strategic objective that they’re trying to achieve, but just saying it’s an open-ended blank check, that is not acceptable.

After questioning the supposed “objective” in Ukraine, DeSantis then downplayed the threat of Russian aggression. In response to a question about what a “win” would look like in Ukraine, DeSantis dodged and went in a different direction:

It’s important to point out the fear of Russia going into NATO countries and all of that and steamrolling that is not even come close to happening. I think they’ve shown themselves to be a third-rate military power. I think they’ve suffered tremendous, tremendous losses. I got to think that the people in Russia are probably disapproving of what’s going on. I don’t think they can speak up about it for obvious reasons, so I think Russia has been really, really wounded here. And I don’t think that they are the same threat to our country, even though they’re hostile. I don’t think they’re on the same level as a China.

What DeSantis either does not know, or will not say, is that even third-rate military powers are dangerous when they are led by authoritarians. Russia is only militarily degraded today because of robust international intervention, not from a lack of might or will on Putin’s behalf. And, still, Putin has not backed down. He continues to conscript scores of thousands of Russians into military service, throwing their lives into the maw of war to further his expansionist dreams.

DeSantis disregards this reality so that he can then pretend he is unaware of the “objective” of the U.S.-Ukrainian alliance—and then declines to say what such an objective should be. Maybe the objective should be Russian defeat; maybe it should be a settlement negotiated by the Ukrainians. That could be debated. But stopping the slaughter of innocent Ukrainians would seem to be an absolute baseline requirement. Ron DeSantis could not be bothered to say even that much.

Ron DeSantis isn’t really this dense—Yale, Harvard, QED. He’s just acting dumb because he thinks it’s politically smart. And in doing so, he has revealed quite a lot about what he might be like as a president.

DeSantis has positioned himself on the wrong side of Ukraine because he thinks that opposing Biden, no matter what Biden does, is the only way to stay on the good side of MAGA voters. Even if that means turning a blind eye to the plight of the Ukrainians.

As the lady said: When people show you who they are, believe them.

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.