Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday appeared flummoxed when an otherwise-friendly Fox News host asked him to say how he’d help bring Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine to an end if he is elected president of the United States.
Mr DeSantis, who followed up on his disastrous Twitter-based campaign rollout by appearing on the right-wing network with ex-South Carolina congressman Trey Gowdy, previously drew scorn and criticism earlier this year when he called the war a “territorial dispute”.
Members of his own party slammed his characterisation of the war, which came in an answer to a questionnaire sent out by then-Fox host Tucker Carlson.
The Florida Governor appeared not to have settled on a position regarding the war and did not offer one when Gowdy asked him how he would “address the ongoing war in Eastern Europe between Russia and Ukraine on day one of a Ron DeSantis presidency”.
Instead, the former US Navy Judge Advocate turned to attacking the US military, repeating a laundry list of GOP grievances against the American armed forces in a rambling answer that did not even begin to address Gowdy’s question.
“I think what we need to do as a veteran is recognise that our military has become politicised. You talk about gender ideology. You talk about things like global warming, that they’re somehow concerned and that’s not the military that I served in,” he said.
Mr DeSantis’ comments appeared to be a critique of the Defence Department’s policy allowing transgender people to serve in the armed forces if they are otherwise qualified to do so, as well as long-standing Pentagon positions which state that climate change is a threat to US security because changing weather patterns will destabilise global food supplies and cause widespread migration.
Republicans have also attacked the US military for working to root out extremists and white supremacists from the ranks, and many in the GOP have claimed that the Pentagon’s efforts to recruit non-white people, women and LGBT+ people have harmed recruiting efforts for the all-volunteer force.
Mr DeSantis appeared to allude to these criticisms of the US armed services as he continued his answer.
“We need to return our military to focusing on commitment, focusing on the core values and the core mission would be something that I can take care of on day one,” he said.
He added that he would be “a new sheriff in town as commander-in-chief” and said he’d cause recruiting to return to desire levels “because people don’t want to join a woke military”.
Finally, he attempted to address the original question he’d been asked, but did not offer much in terms of his own views on the war other than to say he’d “like to see a settlement” of some sort rather than a “wider war”.
“I think it’s completely unknowable what it will look like in January of 2025, but I would not want to see the United States with our troops get enmeshed in a war in Russia or in Ukraine,” he said.