The disagreement among these Republicans is shaping up as a potential longer-term debate in the contest as the candidate field takes shape. Here’s where the declared and potential GOP presidential candidates stand, starting with the polling leaders (Trump and DeSantis, the latter a potential candidate), as well as Trump’s declared opponents (Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy) and other possible candidates (Asa Hutchinson, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Tim Scott and Chris Sununu.)
The former president, who while in office was impeached on charges related to his attempt to withhold military aid to Ukraine and pressure the country to investigate now-President Biden, has praised Putin and been outspoken about his positions on Russia and Ukraine.
In the initial aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Trump called Putin “savvy” and said the move was “genius.” Trump also has claimed that Russia would not have invaded Ukraine if he had still been president, and he sought to blame Biden for the invasion.
Trump is one of several current or potential candidates who responded to a questionnaire from Fox News host Tucker Carlson. In response to the question of whether opposing Russia is a “vital American national strategic interest,” Trump said in a statement: “No, but it is for Europe. But not for the United States.”
Trump called the invasion a “bloody and expensive assault” and proposed that Biden convene a meeting between Russia and Ukraine to work out a peace deal.
Trump told Carlson that the United States should “tell Ukraine that there will be little more money coming from us.”
In his response to Carlson’s questions, the Florida governor adopted a posture similar to Trump’s, calling the invasion of Ukraine “a territorial dispute” and saying that “while the U.S. has many vital national interests … becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”
DeSantis said that the objective should be peace but that the United States should not supply troops or “enable Ukraine to engage in offensive operations beyond its borders” by supplying F-16s or long-range missiles. “We cannot prioritize intervention in an escalating foreign war over the defense of our own homeland,” he said.
DeSantis said a Russian regime change would make the use of nuclear weapons likelier and warned that a replacement to Putin could be “even more ruthless.”
DeSantis’s position marks a turn from his stance as a member of Congress: He supported arming Ukraine in 2015 after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region.
The approach of the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is different from Trump and DeSantis’s. She says that opposing Russia in Ukraine is a vital American strategic interest. She has warned that “if Russia wins, then its closest allies, China and Iran, will become more aggressive,” echoing her remarks about Ukraine on the campaign trail.
“This is not a war about Ukraine. This is a war about freedom. And it’s one that we have to win,” Haley said at a foreign policy event in Clive, Iowa, on March 10. “I don’t think we need to put troops on the ground, but I think we need to get with our allies and make sure that they [the Ukrainians] have the equipment they need.”
In response to Carlson’s questionnaire, Haley said that the United States should help Ukraine fight off Russia by providing “conventional weapons” but that it should not contribute troops, cash or blank checks.
Haley said that the Russian leadership under Putin is “among the worst in the world” but that “it should not be American policy to try to change any foreign regime simply because we have good reason to dislike it.”
Ramaswamy, a wealthy tech entrepreneur who announced his campaign for president last month, said that opposing Russia in Ukraine is not a vital strategic U.S. interest and that the real vital interest is energy independence.
Ramaswamy said in his reply to Carlson: “If I were president right now, I would limit any further funding or support to Ukraine.” He said that the United States should be “nudging — shaking, if necessary — the Europeans to take care of themselves.”
He also has tweeted: “The main thing should be the main thing: focus on China. China wants the Ukraine war to last as long as possible to deplete Western military capacity before invading Taiwan. It’s working: we think we *look* stronger by helping Ukraine, but we actually *become* weaker vs. China.”
The former Arkansas governor said in a statement last month that “we must not be near-sighted when it comes to offering assistance to the Ukrainian people in their conflict with Russia.”
He added, “If we stand by and let this nation falter, it leaves a hostile Russia on the doorstep of our NATO allies.”
Hutchinson has said he supports financial and military aid for Ukraine. “I think that would be a mistake to withdraw funding for Ukraine in this extraordinary fight against Russia and Russia’s aggression against the sovereign territory of Ukraine,” he said in an interview on CNN last fall.
The former vice president is in the camp of supporting Ukraine against Russia, saying there are larger stakes in the balance.
In response to DeSantis’s comments on Ukraine, Pence told the radio show and podcast New Hampshire Today: “The war going on in Ukraine right now is not a territorial dispute. It is the result of an unprovoked war of aggression by Russia. Russia is attempting to redraw international lines by force.”
Like Haley, Pence has warned that if Putin succeeds in Ukraine, he will not stop there, and the former vice president has said that supporting Ukraine also sends a signal to China. He said he doesn’t believe in a blank check for Ukraine, “but withholding or reducing support will have consequences.”
Pence said Thursday in New Hampshire that “as leader of the free world, as arsenal of democracy, I believe that America has an obligation to lead the free world, to give Ukrainian military the support they need to repel the Russian invasion.”
“Helping Ukraine end Putin’s invasion is absolutely in our vital interest,” the former secretary of state said in a tweet this week. “It’s in the best interest of our economy, and our national security. A Putin victory would only embolden the CCP,” referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
Pompeo has praised Putin as a talented and savvy statesman but also said the Russian president “wants to do the American people harm.”
He has argued that “the best way to end this war is to give Ukraine the weapons to win.” In January, Pompeo told Fox News: “We should be doing everything the Ukrainians are asking us to do. They haven’t asked us to send our soldiers. They haven’t asked for the 82nd Airborne. They’ve simply said, ‘Provide us the stuff we need.’ And it is their lives that are at risk.”
The senator from South Carolina said in response to Carlson’s questionnaire that “degrading the Russian military is in our vital national interest.” In a statement in March 2022 when he voted to approve defense spending, he said, “American strength at home and abroad is the only way to ensure security and freedom for our people today and generations to come.”
Like other potential candidates, he said in response to the questionnaire from Carlson that “there is no such thing as a blank check. We are going to make sure that there’s accountability.”
He also tied the situation in Ukraine to China, and said, “They are partnering with Putin, which means it’s enmity with us.”
“Under the Biden administration, our weaknesses on the world stage emboldened enemies like Vladimir Putin to launch an evil genocide against Ukraine. Women and children are being victimized, even targeted,” he said in a speech at the Reagan Library in California in April last year. “The Reagan doctrine of ‘Peace Through Strength’ is needed now just like it was during the Cold War.”
The New Hampshire governor denounced DeSantis’s statement that Russia’s invasion amounts to a “territorial dispute.”
“This is not a territorial dispute; it is a sovereign nation, and the United States has to win there,” Sununu told New Hampshire Today this week.
“It is in the United States’ direct national security interest to win, to make sure Ukraine wins,” he said. “We don’t need to put troops on the ground and fly planes. It can clearly be done without that. But we need to support [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky. We need to support the Ukrainian people.”
Michael Scherer contributed to this report.