On Monday night, after a year of playing coy, Ron DeSantis, Republican presidential nominee in all but name, finally made clear his position on the war in Ukraine, in response to Tucker Carlson’s unofficial 2024 questionnaire. The Fox News host, who had solicited answers from anyone considering tossing their hat in the ring, was clearly impressed. In addition to giving DeSantis’s statement a glowing summary on the air, Carlson posted the entire statement in a tweet. Putting aside the fact that the tweet was 2,485 characters long—that is, 2,205 over the limit for the rest of us mortals—the message itself was quite clear: helping Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion was not one of the U.S.’s “vital national interests.” Securing the border, dealing with the fentanyl epidemic? Yes. Vital national interest. Helping Ukraine? Not so much.
Notably, however, DeSantis said that “checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party” was part of the U.S.’s vital national interest. This Russia-dove-China-hawk position is something that I’ve noticed a lot in the last few months as the war in Ukraine drags on and as Republicans, particularly those on the G.O.P.’s populist flank, grow weary about sending so much money to Ukraine. Even as the right rails against sending a “blank check” to Kyiv—a catchphrase that DeSantis echoed in his statement—this subset of the party seems to be quite comfortable with the idea of a looming confrontation with China. “They’re honestly itching to go to war with China,” one insider familiar with the workings of the Hill told me.
And in this view, where everything is zero-sum and where you can’t deal with immigration while also supporting Ukraine, it has become politically unfeasible to fight a proxy war with Russia over Ukraine while fighting another one with China over Taiwan. To wit, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley sent a scathing letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken in December saying, “You are prioritizing arms to Ukraine over our vital security interests in Asia… Regardless of the weapons’ source, if both Taiwan and Ukraine need them, they should go to Taiwan first.”