Who Else Would Trump and DeSantis Abandon?
If Europeans aren’t worth fighting for, why would anyone think DeSantis or Trump would fight for Taiwan—or even our oldest treaty allies?
DOHA, Qatar—Well, now we know that Ron DeSantis won’t defend Europeans from Vladimir Putin’s war. Not to the end, at least. Neither would Donald Trump, as he’s made clear.
Why then should anyone—especially their hawkish fellow Republicans—think that, if elected president, either of them would defend Taiwan from China?
Their reticence to commit arms to stop an invasion on NATO’s borders invites even more unsettling questions. What about Australia? How about Japan? How about NATO’s eastern countries? Would they be willing to sign the orders for American soldiers to deploy and defend any U.S. allies?
They are fair questions. What Trump and DeSantis preach lately is not America First. It is America Only. For the price of a Tucker Carlson endorsement, they eagerly reject fundamental pillars of international security and diplomacy set more than 100 years ago. Would they simply tear apart the nation’s sacred oaths to fight for its treaty allies and support its security partners? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what a growing share of American voters want. Fortunately, by the end of the day, even fellow Republicans made it clear Trump-DeSantis-style foreign policy is exactly what they fear from within their own ranks.
I write this from yet another international security conference, the Global Security Forum, where mostly non-military security professionals from the fields of counterterrorism, intelligence, law enforcement, information warfare, diplomacy, and the private sector heralded old-fashioned ideas like alliances, security partnerships, and cross-cultural trust. Many are involved in deliberate partnerships with foreign security services in areas like hostage rescue, drug and arms interdiction, and training. Many of the attendees have experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Ukraine conflict. Many also, I would bet, hope that Americans had moved past the anomaly of Trumpist isolationism. Here, as in Munich last month, the news of another snub to Ukraine had heads shaking with disgust and disbelief. But the relentlessness of America’s authoritarian-cheering right-wing media, the apparent hedging by centrist Republicans, and the sheer tenacity of Trump and the extremist candidates competing to out-Trump him—like DeSantis—have proven their moment is here to stay.
DeSantis has actually flip-flopped on Ukraine. As the New York Times noted the Florida governor once supported Kyiv before he decided to woo the increasingly isolationist Republican base that favors ceding territory to the invading Russians. When I mentioned that some 40 percent of Republican voters now oppose aid to Ukraine, one conference attendee replied, “DeSantis wants to get that up to 60 percent.” Sure enough, by Tuesday evening Trump was boasting that DeSantis was simply copying him.
Where President Joe Biden and the rest of Europe promises to help Ukraine fight Putin’s forces for “as long as it takes,” and Ukraine’s neighbors—most of which are NATO allies—are begging the world to stop the fight from spreading, DeSantis is telling the Kremlin to take a bigger bite out of Europe.
Even if you live in a country that is a treaty ally of the United States, get worried. It’s not unreasonable to believe that nobody is coming to help you either, if Trump and DeSantis voters get their way.
If you live in a NATO member country east of Paris, you might be especially terrified of a Trump or DeSantis presidency. In 2017, I didn’t believe that Trump would tear up the North Atlantic Treaty when he threatened his fellow allies just one month into his presidency, or when he continued threatening them heading into the NATO Summit in 2018. That was when his bluster was bigger than his bite. But I believe it’s possible either man would try, if given the chance.
Here’s the basic truth: If Russia’s invasion and Ukraine’s freedom is not a key interest of the United States, then what is the worth of freedom in Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, or Turkey? They’re all NATO allies that the United States has sworn to defend, if attacked.
One still has hopes for Canada, France, Germany, and the UK. DeSantis and Trump might still be moved to defend those much larger countries that are more loved economically, culturally, and, let’s face it, ethnically and racially by the Anglo-favoring Christian right. But realistically, I don’t believe even London is safe with these two. Taiwanese should start packing.
Take this week’s AUKUS agreement. How confident are you that DeSantis and Trump would back the Outback in a fight? Would they really send Americans to fight and die in a naval battle to support foreigners from Australia or the UK? Would either man fund that submarine deal Biden just inked? Would they even send any bullets? It’s all fair to ask.
Incumbent presidents have huge advantages, so perhaps Biden will safely win reelection and this will soon be discarded alarmist rhetoric by two desperate presidential hopefuls. But it is still another example of how large percentages of Americans are not aligned with the nation’s national-security leaders, nor are they concerned by the Pentagon’s list of threats, nor are they as willing to fund, fight or die for other peoples’ freedom. They adore Trump and DeSantis. And DeSantis is not Trumplite. He is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’s a wolf, too. Proudly. For now, Republican voters are picking those two candidates by enormous margins over any other GOP pretenders for the 2024 nomination.
If these Republicans are so eagerly willing to give up Ukraine to Moscow, they will never support Taiwan’s fight to hold off Beijing. And maybe they’re reading Americans better than any of us. Still, it shows how some of today’s anti-China political theater is farce.
If DeSantis would hand Ukraine over to Moscow on a silver platter so easily, Taiwan is Beijing’s next meal.