Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is wading deeper into foreign policy as he prepares for a likely 2024 presidential run, signaling an effort to broaden his leadership chops beyond the culture war issues that he built a national reputation on.
During an appearance on “Fox & Friends” on Monday, the Florida governor and prospective White House contender blasted the Biden administration’s aid to Ukraine as a “blank-check policy” and played down the threat that Moscow poses to NATO member countries in Europe.
“They have effectively a blank-check policy with no clear strategic objective identified,” DeSantis said. “These things can escalate. And I don’t think it’s in our interest to be getting into a proxy war with China getting involved over things like the borderlands or over Crimea.”
It’s a topic that DeSantis has only addressed sparingly in the past, but one that could come up in a 2024 Republican primary contest that is expected to feature a slew of candidates with prior experience on the international stage — including former President Trump, whose “America First” framework largely redefined the GOP’s approach to foreign policy.
“Donald Trump changed the entire world view of the Republican Party when it comes to international affairs and foreign relations,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist and former congressional candidate. “So to an extent, Republican voters are going to want to hear where these other candidates stand; make sure they’re in step.”
Foreign policy isn’t typically seen as major drivers of campaigns, and polls regularly show issues like inflation and immigration topping the list of voters’ concerns. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found that just 4 percent of voters consider Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to be the most urgent issue facing the U.S.
But presidential contests are also multifaceted affairs in which candidates are expected to show off their leadership abilities on a variety of fronts, and the list of foreign policy challenges facing the country is long — the ongoing war in Ukraine, rising tensions with China and Russia’s decision on Tuesday to suspend the last remaining nuclear arms control pact with the U.S., to name a few.
What’s more, several current and prospective contenders for the GOP’s 2024 nomination have their own foreign policy records to lean on.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), who last week became the first Republican to challenge Trump for the GOP nod, served as the face of the former president’s foreign policy agenda during her tenure as his ambassador to the United Nations. Another potential candidate, Mike Pompeo, spent nearly three years as secretary of State.
Then there’s Trump himself, whose approach to international affairs helped reshape GOP orthodoxy on everything from free trade to longstanding U.S. military alliances. Earlier this month, Trump went after DeSantis directly, dubbing him a “globalist” and escalating a long-simmering feud with the Florida governor.
That line of attack could play a central role in Trump’s campaign. In a video posted online on Tuesday, the former president decried his rivals as “candidates of war,” and labeled himself a peacemaker.
“Take a look at the globalist warmonger donors backing our opponents. That’s because they’re candidates of war,” he said. “I am the President who delivers peace, and it’s peace through strength.”
DeSantis has at least some experience in the foreign policy sphere. During his three terms in Congress, he served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
And his work as governor has occasionally crossed over into the international realm. Last fall, for instance, he called for state lawmakers to ban the governments of several “countries of concern,” including China, Russia and Iran, from purchasing agricultural land and land near military bases in Florida.
One Republican donor who has given money to DeSantis in the past said that the Florida governor needs to start more aggressively pitching his foreign affairs credentials to a larger audience.
“In what world can you call Ron DeSantis a globalist? I mean, look at his record on China. Look what he just said about Russia and Ukraine,” the donor said.
“The other part of this, though, is that he hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to talk about these big foreign policy issues, because he’s busy being governor,” the person continued. “And I think what you’re seeing now is kind of an introduction — ‘Hey, I’m going to put America first.’ ”
For now, DeSantis appears less concerned with firing back at Trump than going after President Biden. Asked during his appearance on “Fox & Friends” about the president’s surprise visit to Kyiv this week, DeSantis redirected the conversation to some of his typical grievances.
“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,” DeSantis said. “We have a lot of problems accumulating here in our own country that he is neglecting.”