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Ron DeSantis talks tough to Disney, but appeases Putin
Dick Polman

Nobody these days is happier with Ron DeSantis than Vladimir Putin, who now has two horses in the 2024 Republican race: Trump (naturally) and a coward who talks tough to Disney but quakes at the prospect of confronting a genocidal thug.

It’s no surprise, of course, that DeSantis has morphed into one of Putin’s useful idiots by dismissing Russia’s aggression as a mere “territorial dispute,” thus giving aid and comfort to the enemy. DeSantis’ stance, announced earlier this week on Putin groupie Tucker Carlson’s show (naturally), reflects the center of gravity in the MAGAfied Republican party. The GOP used to tout itself as the tough-on-Russia party, but today, thanks to Trump, it’s mostly a collection of wimps in thrall to a former KGB agent whose bloody war is the first on European soil since 1945.

Putin’s greatest weapon is American irresolution. To somehow prevail in Ukraine, he’s banking on the election of a new president who’s committed to weakness. DeSantis fills the bill to a T, parroting Russian propaganda as Trump’s Mini-Me.

In his statement on Fox, DeSantis denounced President Biden’s “funding of this conflict.” That’s a mendacious inversion of reality. Putin is the aggressor who has funded the war with rubles and mass conscription; Biden (with support from Congress) is responding to that aggression against a sovereign nation, leading the NATO alliance that has kept the peace for generations.

DeSantis also said “we cannot prioritize intervention in an escalating foreign war” because we need to finance solutions to our many problems here at home. As if we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Somebody should tell DeSantis that the Pentagon’s total outlay for Ukraine amounts to just 5.6 percent of its annual budget.

As a sane commentator at the conservative National Review points out, “Meeting the challenges posed by simultaneous crises is what we expect of a president,” especially “safeguarding the security and alliance architecture that emerged after the Second World War and became a continental bloc at the end of the Cold War...Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is a ‘dispute’ over territory in the same way a bank robber and a depositor have a ‘dispute’ over money.”

DeSantis boasts about “staring down the mouse” – he has financially punished Florida-based Disney for saying nice things about gay people – and he touts himself as a tough guy about drag queens. But why is he cutting and running from a legitimate threat? Two big reasons:

He’s going where the votes are. Thanks to Trump, who last year lauded Putin’s Ukraine invasion as “genius,” a majority share of Duh Base is basically in surrender mode. According to a new poll this week, only 42 percent of Republican respondents favor more aid for Ukraine (overall American support is 59 percent). Mindful of that grassroots pro-Putin sentiment, 60 percent of House Republicans boycotted Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s December speech in their chamber. DeSantis has clearly calculated that the best route through the Republican primary is to pander to the party’s Putinists. Talking sense to Duh Base – defending freedom abroad, defending America’s leadership in the world – is for losers.

He has a genuine affinity for Putin. He ain’t just calculating for votes. He and Putin are waging like-minded “culture” assaults against everyone and everything that’s not a straight white male. They’re both hostile to all forms of diversity, starting with the LGBTQ community. Ambassador Daniel Fried, a retired foreign service officer from the old George W. Bush wing of the foreign policy establishment, said the other day: “Why are Republicans suddenly soft on Russia?...A lot of them have sympathy for Putin, who is all-in on the right-wing, anti-woke, anti-cosmopolitan culture wars. The whole uber-masculine thing.”

Indeed, when Putin launched his Ukraine invasion 13 months ago, he framed it in terms of a culture war. He was sending troops into Ukraine because the western world was determined “to destroy our traditional values, to force on us pseudo-values that would have just eaten away at our people from the inside.” Or, as DeSantis says, when he denounces drag queens and compels teachers to ban books, “There’s a new sheriff in town.”

Putin needs a Neville Chamberlain in the White House. But what we need is a guy who says stuff like this: “(I’ve) been urging the president, I’ve been, to provide arms to Ukraine. They want to fight their good fight. They’re not asking us to fight it for them...And I think if we were to arm the Ukrainians, I think that would send a strong signal to (Putin) that he shouldn’t be going any further.”

So said Congressman Ron DeSantis, eight years ago.

Today he’s not just a wimp, he’s a weathervane.

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at Email him at