The American Giant’s Feet of Clay

At a time when U.S. international leadership is more critical than ever, the 2024 presidential race is likely to throw a wrench in the works.

In recent statements, Florida’s Republican governor and prospective presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has not been shy about questioning bipartisan support for Ukraine in order to appeal to his party’s isolationist base. At a time of increasingly toxic partisanship in the United States, the consensus necessary for a strong and reliable foreign policy will be difficult to maintain.

Republicans Divided

For now, most congressional Republicans are sticking to the traditional party line that sees the United States as an unshakeable pillar of the Atlantic Alliance and the liberal international economic system.

Today, however, Republican candidates must contend with the party’s new isolationist base made inescapable by the rise of Donald Trump. It is this Trumpist base, hostile to any U.S. commitment to Europe and to the liberal international order, that any hopeful candidate must now win over to become the Republican presidential nominee.

In addition, Vladimir Putin has waded into the American culture wars by proclaiming himself the defender of traditional Christian values against liberal decay. There is definitely a receptive audience in the Republican Party for a policy that has a couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude vis-à-vis Ukraine or any policy even sympathetic to Putin.

Biden, the Enemy

Remarks by Gov. DeSantis on n Ukraine stand in contrast to the former congressman’s previous positions, in which he once advocated taking a firm stand against the Russian threat in Europe.

DeSantis calls out Biden’s “blank-check policy” on Ukraine, saying he would be inclined to turn off the tap on military aid. He rejects the idea that Russia poses a threat to NATO’s European allies and blames Biden outright for the Russian invasion. He also does not hesitate to mix commitment to Ukraine in with U.S. policy hot buttons, including border security and the Biden administration’s alleged inaction after the Ohio train derailment.

A Bad Omen

Since the enemy is Biden and everything is Biden’s fault, Republican support for a policy of strong engagement on Ukraine will necessarily suffer, since it’s Biden’s policy.

Candidates for the Republican nomination will naturally distance themselves from the president. This will make it difficult for the United States to continue to exercise the remarkable leadership that Biden has demonstrated since the invasion of Ukraine. It will not help its European counterparts to overcome the resistance that their citizens have to continued involvement.

This decline in American leadership will also have an economic impact, as Republicans will not hesitate to play politics with raising the debt ceiling. With regard to immigration, partisanship will continue to fester on an issue that has profound implications for Canadians.

In the battle for Ukraine’s survival and the sustainability of democracy in Europe — and many other areas as well — the weakening of U.S. leadership due to toxic partisanship is a real risk for all U.S. partners.

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