What Does Ron DeSantis Think About Zelensky's Speech?
If you want to know what Republican voters think, watch what Republican opportunists say.
Hey fam: No TNB tonight but I encourage you to listen to my talk with Bill Kristol yesterday on a bonus edition of The Bulwark Podcast.
You know who would have loved Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to Congress yesterday?
All through it, I couldn’t stop thinking about how Zelensky’s speech might as well have been a Johnnie Mac special—one of those rousing, it’s always darkest before the dawn, let freedom ring numbers.
I suspect George W. Bush loved it, too.
And Reagan? Man, the Gipper would have been all over that bad boy. Especially this line:
I know that everything depends on us, on Ukrainian armed forces. Yet so much depends on the world. So much in the world depends on you.
I was thinking about all of this because of Joe Perticone’s piece yesterday about the RNC chair race. There was a line from Harmeet Dhillon, who is mounting a challenge to take over the RNC, that stuck out at me. Here’s what Dhillon said about the Republican party she wants to lead:
The party's base has changed. Some members of the RNC were elected during the Reagan era. I was a Reagan-era Republican, as well. But this isn't that party.
Just as an analytical matter, she’s right. That’s why McCain and W. and Reagan would have stood by Zelensky until the gates of hell froze over. And it's why Donald Trump Jr. and Lauren Boebert and Benny Johnson and Thomas Massie and so many other Republican elites spent yesterday insulting Zelensky.1 The Republican party—and conservatism—have changed.
Not everywhere. Not for 100 percent of the members of these overlapping clubs. But enough to safely say that the center of gravity is no longer with Reagan / W. / McCain.
Where is the center of gravity? We don’t know yet. It’s still moving. But we have a couple of data points.
The first is this poll, showing marked declines in Republican support for either sending additional military aid or additional economic aid to Ukraine. Republican support for those policies is now down to 55 percent and 50 percent, respectively; 43 percent of Republicans want the United States to withdrawal support for Ukraine. The momentum here is pretty clear.
The second data point is the public positioning of the Republican party’s savior-in-waiting, Ron DeSantis.
What did DeSantis think of Zelensky’s speech?
No, seriously. Here’s the entire content of the governor’s official Twitter feed yesterday:
On his personal feed, DeSantis just . . . decided to take the day off. So did his @TeamRonDeSantis account. His @DeSantisWarRoom account was also dark yesterday. No posts.
DeSantis’s mouthpiece, Christina Pushaw, had lots to say yesterday: About people being fat; about Twitter and Elon Musk and the liberal media; about masking and COVID and groomers2 all across the country.
But about Zelensky’s speech and the question of whether or not the United States should be continuing to provide military and economic aid to Ukraine? About whether Zelensky is an agent of liberalism fighting for the democratic order or a track-suited strip-club manager?
Pushaw didn’t voice any opinions on that stuff.
Ron DeSantis is an opportunist. His team is happy to pop off about the omnibus spending bill, or masking policies in Philadelphia—or anything really—if they think it helps him with Republican voters.
So this strategic silence is a clear indication that DeSantis sees Republican voters as, at best, split on Ukraine and Russia. And so he wants to side-step the issue until the pendulum comes to rest and he can see where Republican voters settle.
The good news, I guess, is that parts of the Republican party and some conservatives still believe in safeguarding freedom and preserving the liberal international order. If there weren’t some Republicans who thought this way, then Christina Pushaw would have been taking the same line as Tucker and Don Jr. and Mollie Hemingway and the rest.
The bad news is that the momentum and energy is all moving in the opposite direction and the best we can hope for—even in this potentially post-Trump moment—is a Republican party and conservative movement riven by isolationist instincts and sympathy for anti-American autocrats.
And the worst? Well, we’ve already seen what the worst-case scenario looks like.
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2. Assisted Suicide
Assisted suicide is an issue on which some liberals have a blind spot.