Ron DeSantis is in the race. For the last two decades, presidential campaigns have hinged on domestic concerns. But as a Marine veteran and member of Congress working on issues related to China and Russia, I hope and expect foreign affairs will play a bigger role this cycle. America can’t afford a president who’s tough on Disney and soft on Putin.
So far, DeSantis’ most notable foreign policy has been to throw Ukraine under the bus. After previously supporting Ukraine. Before walking those comments back and sort of supporting Ukraine again. Flip-flopping aside, DeSantis’ failure to condemn Putin’s revanchist invasion, as well as deeper investigation of DeSantis’ record, suggests the governor is a Jacksonian. Jacksonians reject values like democracy or freedom as drivers of foreign policy. To them, only vital security or economic interests justify foreign intervention.
The problem with DeSantis’ narrow worldview is that values are crucial to out-competing China and Russia. One way to tell? The Chinese Communist Party and the Kremlin insist that values shouldn’t matter in international relations. They win sympathy from the Global South by framing their contest with the West as a clash with an overbearing civilization. By contrast, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin lose hearts and minds when their totalitarian vision is framed against the West’s universal values of freedom, democracy, and individual rights.
A President DeSantis would reject this helpful ideological competition with China and Russia. That’s ironic, because Gov. DeSantis has vaulted to prominence through ideological battle. He ceaselessly incites ideological conflict to his political benefit (and his state’s economic detriment.) It seems DeSantis has the stomach for fights with librarians, but not with the Wagner Group.
The connection between domestic and international values has never been more vital. Jan. 6, 2021, was Xi Jinping’s best day in office. It supported his case, to his own people and to the rest of the world, that America is decrepit and democracy doesn’t work. By investing in our economy and defending democracy at home and abroad, Joe Biden has made that case a lot harder. DeSantis doesn’t seem to want to argue it, at all.
Ronald Reagan did. Security and economic strategy was crucial, of course–but so was a powerful argument of the values at stake. But then the GOP took the wrong lessons from the disastrous adventurism of George W. Bush’s administration. Instead of accepting the limits of military might in building nations, it turned away from the importance of universal values to peoples of all nations.
The GOP must now decide whether its foreign policy reflects the leaders it once championed who stood up for democratic values against authoritarian regimes, or the MAGA mindset of DeSantis and Trump. China and Russia are rooting for an American president who dismisses values. American voters should not.
by Jake Auchincloss,
a Marine veteran and member of Congress who serves on the House Select Committee on China. He represents the Massachusetts 4th Congressional District.