The Policy Fights Where DeSantis Sees His Chance to Hit Trump

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After dodging questions about Ukraine, Mr. DeSantis told the former Fox News host Tucker Carlson that defending Ukraine against Russia was not a vital U.S. interest and dismissed the war as a “territorial dispute.” Stung by criticism, Mr. DeSantis walked back the “territorial dispute” line, and in a subsequent interview he called Mr. Putin a “war criminal.” Mr. Trump refused to do the same when asked to on CNN.

While both Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis are contemptuous of international institutions such as the United Nations, the former president poses a more significant threat to the post-World War II international security framework.

Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, John R. Bolton, feared his boss would withdraw the United States from NATO and grew convinced he would do so if he won re-election to a second term. Now, Mr. Trump validates those fears on his campaign website, pledging to “finish the process we began under my administration of fundamentally re-evaluating NATO’s purpose and NATO’s mission.”

In Republican nominating contests before the age of Trump, the leading candidates tended to fight over who was more fiscally conservative — who would abolish more federal agencies and who was more likely to reduce the federal government “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub,” as the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist put it.

But Mr. Trump has redefined the G.O.P. primary campaign into a battle over who is the most protectionist on trade, and who will most faithfully preserve government benefits for the elderly. Mr. DeSantis, who rose in politics as a Tea Party fiscal conservative, has so far shown little interest in trying to out-populist the former president on government spending and trade, and seems to hope he can reorient the party’s conversation around fiscal discipline.

Mr. Trump and his super PAC have called out Mr. DeSantis’s congressional votes to cut spending on Social Security and Medicare. Mr. DeSantis has said he won’t “mess with” Social Security for seniors currently dependent on the program, but unlike Mr. Trump, he has not ruled out trimming entitlement spending in ways that would affect younger Americans when they retire.

Mr. Trump has initiated attacks against Mr. DeSantis for his past efforts to kill the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires ethanol to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply. Fiscal conservatives see this as “big government” overreach, but Mr. Trump knows how important ethanol is to Iowa’s economy.

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