Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump oppose aid for Ukraine, a sign of a GOP divided Gov. Ron DeSantis is opposed to U.S. support for Ukraine in its war with Russia. So is former President Donald Trump. The issue seems poised to become a flashpoint in the 2024 presidential race.

Ron DeSantis says backing Ukraine is not in the U.S. interest, a sign of a GOP divided

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There's a very public split within the Republican Party over whether the U.S. should continue to arm Ukraine to fight Russia. And that could become an even bigger issue as Republicans decide who should be their candidate for president in 2024. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is with us this morning in the studio to talk about this rift. Hi, Franco.


PFEIFFER: This divide among Republicans came to light in a noteworthy way.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, interestingly, it came from Tucker Carlson on Fox News, a show that's popular with Republicans. You know, he surveyed all the people who are seen as potential Republican candidates for president about Ukraine. And the big news came from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He said the war was not in the U.S. interests and basically downplayed it as a spat over territory and boundaries. He seems to be playing off of polls that show American support for the war is weakening, especially among Republicans. And that's really significant because he's seen as one of the biggest challengers to former President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination.

PFEIFFER: And how does DeSantis' opinion compare to Trump's opinion on this issue?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Trump's long sought to pull the United States back from other countries' wars. And he, too, is questioning how much of the war is in U.S. interests. He says it's more in Europe's interests and is pushing for Europe to take on more of the burden for paying for the war.

PFEIFFER: And what about other Republicans? Is there a totally different view within the party?

ORDOÑEZ: There is. I mean, former Vice President Mike Pence is an example of some of the presidential - or the potential presidential candidates who are coming on the other side. He's taken a more traditional stance and pushed the U.S. to do more against Russia. Nikki Haley, who was Trump's ambassador to the U.N., has a similar view. And they're aligned with Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and much of the Republican establishment. McConnell has actually been trying to downplay the split that's emerged in the party, you know?

But all that's really going to be harder to do now that the two frontrunners of the party's leader both oppose U.S. support for the war. And yesterday, there was actually some very public infighting. Senator Marco Rubio, for example, went on conservative radio to complain that DeSantis wasn't taking this seriously enough. But even some Ukraine supporters have concerns, wanting more clarity on Biden's long-term goals and an explanation of what winning actually looks like.

PFEIFFER: So Franco, tell us how this could affect two things - first, the 2024 presidential race and then Ukraine. Obviously very high stakes for Ukraine.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, very high stakes. And I talked about this a bit with Ryan Williams. He's a Republican strategist. You know, he told me that the views of DeSantis and Trump resonate with a lot of Republican voters.

RYAN WILLIAMS: When you're speaking to voters who, you know, are rightfully concerned about issues in the United States - you know, banks failing, our crumbling infrastructure and trains derailing, a huge immigration issue - it's easy to say, why are we sending money abroad to something that doesn't affect your daily life when things that are affecting your daily life in America are not the way you want them to be?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, and he says it's harder to make the strategic argument that their money should go to this fight that's so far away, you know, why it's important to support allies and push back on dictators, for example. The reality, though, is that the foreign policy issues are not typically what move people at the ballot box. But this is kind of turning into a domestic issue. And Williams says voters are comparing the spending overseas to the economic problems here in the U.S. Now, Biden says the U.S. will back Ukraine as long as it takes. That's meant more than $112 billion in military and economic aid. That's supposed to last through the summer. But there's no sign the war is going to be over. And Ukraine is going to need more help. And all that's going to coincide with the 2024 campaign kicking into high gear.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Franco, thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Sacha.

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