WASHINGTON – Military aid to Ukraine has emerged as a dividing line among the Republican presidential candidates – but not necessarily between front-runners Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.
After weeks of dodging the issue, DeSantis issued a statement this week saying Ukraine should not be a vital interest of the United States, echoing Trump’s position though neither man has explicitly called for a total cut-off of aid.
“The Biden administration’s virtual ‘blank check’ funding of this conflict for ‘as long as it takes,’ without any defined objectives or accountability, distracts from our country’s most pressing challenges,” DeSantis said in a carefully worded statement to Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Other major Republicans, including former Vice President Mike Pence, have said that if anything the U.S. should increase its support to Ukraine as it fights off an invasion from Russia.
More:Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says supporting Ukraine is not a ‘vital’ U.S. interest, calls the war a ‘territorial dispute’
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What Pence said about Ukraine support
Pence said in a statement to Carlson there is no room in the Republican Party for Vladimir Putin apologists.
“When the United States supports Ukraine in their fight against Putin, we follow the Reagan doctrine, and we support those who fight our enemies on their shores, so we will not have to fight them ourselves,” he said.
Pence described Putin as a dictator willing to spend thousands of lives to reestablish the Russian empire and warned Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine were only the beginning of his conquests.
“This is not America’s war, but if Putin is not stopped and the sovereign nation of Ukraine is not restored quickly, he will continue to move toward our NATO allies, and America would then be called upon to send our own,” he said.
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What did Trump say about Ukraine?
In his statement, Trump said Europe must pay more for Ukraine defense (and remit past differences to the U.S.) He also said the U.S. must “tell Ukraine that there will be little more money coming from us, UNLESS RUSSIA CONTINUES TO PROSECUTE THE WAR.”
Like DeSantis, Trump did not explicitly call for a cut-off of aid.
Other prospective GOP presidential candidates expressed more support for Ukraine.
More:Russian fighter jet collides with US Air Force drone over Black Sea
Asa Hutchinson gives position on Ukraine
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, in a view shared by some other Republicans, believes Ukraine defeating Russia would encourage China not to invade Taiwan.
“The strength of America has to be demonstrated in supporting of our allies in Ukraine and Europe and those that support freedom and those that are oppressed,” he told USA TODAY on Saturday.
And winning should be the strategy – not just a stalemate or surviving the day, Hutchinson said.
A win is also the best way to lessen the need to for aid, he said.
“The quicker we win, the shorter our engagement will have to be,” Hutchinson said. “And when I say we win, it’s Ukraine, I’m very clear that we should not be sending our U.S. troops there. This is a Ukrainian war, but they’re on the right side, and America needs to stand with them.”
Chris Christie supports Ukraine fight for freedom
“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is a national security issue that threatens our alliances and our standing in the world,” he told Carlson.
The U.S. goal should be to assist Ukraine sufficiently so they can defeat Russian forces and restore their sovereignty, Christie said.
“This effort is not about regime change in Russia; it is about respecting the sovereignty of free nations,” he said.
It also sends a message to other aggressors, Christie said. “Our allies and our enemies are watching us.”
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Nikki Haley said Ukraine fight is ‘vital’ U.S. interest
In a statement from her campaign, Nikki Haley said Ukraine and their battle against Russia is a vital U.S. strategic interest. “America is far better off with a Ukrainian victory than a Russian victory, including avoiding a wider war,” she said.
As for aid, Haley said “we should not send American troops” and “we should not send cash or blank checks.” Instead, she added, the U.S. and European allies “should provide conventional weapons that enable Ukraine to effectively stop the Russian invasion and occupation of its land.”
Tim Scott doesn’t want a ‘blank check’ on Ukraine
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., doesn’t think the U.S. should have a “blank check” ready for Ukraine, but he does see degrading the Russian military as part of America’s strategic interests, according to his statement to Carlson.
Like many Republicans, he sees China as the bigger threat. “China has chosen a side,” saying the country is “partnering with Putin.”
“China is a risk that continues to rise, an adversarial position they have taken against the American people. We should hear what they’re telling us. Believe them and act accordingly.”
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Greg Abbott wants less money for Ukraine, more for U.S. border
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott criticized President Biden for sending aid to Ukraine while underfunding priorities at home.
“Before he sends any more money or assets to Ukraine’s border, he must enforce our immigration laws and secure our southern border,” Abbott said in a statement to Carlson.
Kristi Noem sees China as bigger threat than Russia
“The primary external threat to the United States is Communist China,” she said to Carlson.
U.S. opposition to Russia has pushed it into an alliance with China, she said.
“This should be Europe’s fight, not ours. We should not waste taxpayer dollars at the risk of nuclear war,” she said.
Vivek Ramaswamy says opposing Russia in Ukraine not vital
Presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy told Carlson opposing Russia in Ukraine is not a vital strategic interest for America.
He sees the war as proof that the U.S. needs more energy independence. Putin started the war knowing the West relies on him to provide oil and gas, which led him to believe he could win, Ramaswamy said.
He said the country’s main focus should be China. “China wants the Ukraine war to last as long as possible to deplete Western military capacity before invading Taiwan.”
Contributing: Francesca Chambers