Former President Donald Trump has lashed out at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over the latter’s recent comments condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin.
DeSantis, considered a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 (though he has not announced an intention to run), called Putin a “war criminal” and said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was “wrong” during a Fox Nation interview with Piers Morgan last week.
He also said the Russian leader was “basically a gas station with a bunch of nuclear weapons,” and previously referred to him as an “authoritarian gas-station attendant,” echoing rhetoric that was used by the late Republican Sen. John McCain, who, in 2014, referred to Russia as “a gas station masquerading as a country.”
In a new campaign video, Trump defended Putin and condemned DeSantis’s comments as “exactly the kind of simple-minded thinking that has produced decades of failed diplomacy and ultimately war.”
He also said DeSantis and Sen. Mitt Romney were “very much alike” and that they “insist on arrogantly treating Russia as deeply inferior to the other nations of the world, with no history or culture or pride.” He added their “attitude makes it impossible to negotiate peace.”
—Trump War Room (@TrumpWarRoom) March 29, 2023
Representatives for DeSantis and Romney did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
Trump has a long history of defending Putin, who in February of 2022 launched an assault on Ukraine. After the US intelligence community concluded Russia had meddled in the 2016 election, Trump sided with Putin. Following a one-on-one meeting with Putin during a 2018 summit in Helsinki, Finland, Trump doubted the findings, declined to condemn the Kremlin, and said he didn’t “see any reason” why Russia would’ve interfered.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February of last year, Trump said Putin’s justification for invading was “savvy” and “genius.” In October, he blamed the US for the invasion, accusing American leaders of “taunting” Putin and “almost forcing” him to invade.
Trump was also impeached in 2019 over a phone call in which he threatened to withhold congressionally approved military assistance to Ukraine and pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate the Biden family.
DeSantis, for his part, previously referred to the war in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” and said it was not of “vital national interest” to the US, a position that move him closer to Trump on the issue but alienated him from some fellow Republicans.
In the interview last week in which he called Putin a war criminal, DeSantis said his comments had been “mischaracterized.”
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