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Daily Kos Staff

Thursday March 23, 2023 · 6:04 AM PDT

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DES MOINES, IOWA - MARCH 10: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to Iowa voters gathered at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on March 10, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa. DeSantis, who is widely expected to seek the 2024 Republican nomination for president, is one of several Republican leaders visiting the state this month.   (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

It’s been over a week since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reshuffled his presidential fortunes by providing a flimsy, pro-Russia statement about Ukraine to Fox News Putin lover Tucker Carlson.

DeSantis—who talks almost exclusively to right-wing Rupert Murdoch properties—probably didn’t realize just how explosive his dismissive characterization of the Ukraine-Russian war as a “territorial dispute” that wasn’t a “vital” U.S. interest would be. But he clearly gets it now.

Thus, Ukraine, take two.

In a recorded interview with Piers Morgan set to air Thursday, DeSantis recast his views on Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine as far more pro-Ukrainian and critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

His evolution was likely helped by the fact that last week the International Criminal Court accused Putin of committing war crimes and issued an arrest warrant for him.

Asked if Putin should be held accountable for war crimes committed in Ukraine, DeSantis responded, “I think he is a war criminal … I do think that that he should be held accountable.”

DeSantis further called Putin “hostile to the United States” and characterized the ongoing conflict as “a loss for them.”

DeSantis said his comments about the war being a mere “territorial dispute” had been “mischaracterized.”

“Obviously, Russia invaded,” he acknowledged. “That was wrong. They invaded Crimea and took that in 2014 — that was wrong.”

DeSantis said he had been referring to “where the fighting is going on now, which is that eastern border region, Donbas, and then Crimea,” adding that a lot of ethnic Russians live there.

“That’s what I was referring to, and so it wasn’t that I thought Russia had a right to that, and so if I should have made that more clear, I could have done it,” DeSantis explained.

Given that he granted a second interview on the matter to clean up his initial statement—yeah, DeSantis should have made that more clear.

“I think the larger point is, OK, Russia is not showing the ability to take over Ukraine, to topple the government or certainly to threaten NATO,” DeSantis continued. “That’s a good thing. I just don’t think that’s a sufficient interest for us to escalate more involvement. I would not want to see American troops involved there.”

Fox’s Carlson appeared to be a little taken aback by DeSantis’ change in tone in the interview.

The New York Times noted that just hours after DeSantis’ foreign policy makeover had been made public, Carlson blasted people who cave to the news media, repeating “whatever childish slogan they’ve come up with this week.”

“Vladimir Putin is a war criminal,” Carlson lampooned mockingly.

Gosh, hopefully DeSantis won’t be forced to branch out beyond the Murdoch properties going forward.

DeSantis clearly made a strategic misstep by chasing Trump’s pro-Putin stance on Ukraine and basically every other geopolitical concern under the sun.

Sure, roughly 50% of Republican voters believe the U.S. is doing “too much” to aid Ukraine. But if DeSantis wants to be viewed as a smarter, saner alternative to Trump, then he can’t mimic Trump’s every move—especially one that weakens America on the world stage. 

DeSantis rolling over for Putin sent shockwaves through the hawkish foreign policy wing of the Republican Party, which desperately wants a viable challenger to Trump. DeSantis quickly got the message that alienating that entire constituency of influential donors and congressional Republicans would sacrifice his claim to being a serious policy wonk rather than an intemperate blowhard who’s constantly spouting off about something.  

The national political education of DeSantis has just begun. Trump is really starting to unload on him, and, given recent polling, he’s got a lot of ground to make up. We’re about to see what he’s made of.

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