Pence sheds light on rift with Trump, DeSantis, over support for Ukraine as former vice president visits key primary state

KEENE, NH — Former Vice President Mike Pence reiterated his support for Ukraine, making it clear that he joins former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on an issue dividing the burgeoning field of Republican presidential candidates in 2024, decidedly disagree.

Pence, addressing Russia’s more than year-long war against Ukraine, said Thursday that “there’s a lot of debate even within our party, and that’s healthy.”

But the former vice president, who chaired a Republican fundraising dinner in New Hampshire, the state that holds the first primary and second overall contests in the GOP president’s nomination calendar, stressed, “Republicans need to be clear that we understand that America needs this.” Arsenal of is democracy…we must continue to provide the courageous Ukrainian military with the support it needs to push Russia off its sovereign soil.”

Pence’s comments come days after DeSantis argued that protecting Ukraine is not a “vital” national interest for America.


Former Vice President Mike Pence delivers a keynote address at the Cheshire County, New Hampshire GOP Annual Lincoln-Reagan Fundraising Dinner on March 16, 2023 in Keene, NH (Fox News)

While many in the GOP’s traditional hawkish wing firmly back support for Ukraine and criticize President Biden’s administration for not doing enough to support Kiev, they face an increasingly vocal wing of anti-war voices from within the Trump-led MAGA wing of the party. Who remains the front runner in the early legs of the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

DeSantis, who currently remains on the brink of 2024 but now seems openly flirting with launching a presidential campaign while touring Iowa and the other primaries and primary states, wrote earlier this week: “While the US has many vital national interests — the safeguarding our borders, dealing with our military’s preparedness crisis, achieving energy security and independence, and curbing the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party — none of them are becoming ever more embroiled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia.”


“The Biden administration’s virtual ‘blank check’ funding of this conflict for ‘as long as necessary’ with no defined goals or accountability distracts from our country’s most pressing challenges,” the governor said in a response to a questionnaire aired by Fox News -Moderator Tucker Carlson, which Carlson posted on Twitter.

Speaking to reporters minutes after delivering the keynote address at the Cheshire County GOP’s annual Lincoln-Reagan fundraising dinner in Keene, Pence was asked by Fox News if Trump and DeSantis are wrong about Ukraine.

Archive photos of former President Donald Trump (left) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Archive photos of former President Donald Trump (left) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Scott Eisen, Spencer Platt)

“I think anyone who thinks that Vladimir Putin will quit if he takes Ukraine is going to do something different,” Pence said. “I have met Vladimir Putin. I am aware that he is returning to his efforts to restore the former Soviet sphere of influence.”

Referring to DeSantis’ comments, the former vice president said, “Let me be clear – the war in Ukraine is not a territorial dispute. It’s a Russian invasion.”


Pence argued, “If Vladimir Putin were able to overtake Ukraine, it wouldn’t be too long before Russian tanks rolled into NATO countries where our military personnel would have to enter the fight.”

And Pence, who is preparing for a likely White House run and will make a decision by spring, stressed: “I will continue to be a strong voice in support of Ukraine, and I will continue to do so with other Republicans — not just.” those considering running for President – ​​but also to urge our party leaders to stand firm as an arsenal of democracy and as leaders of the free world.”

The war of words over Ukraine is a possible preview of political conflict as the field of Republican presidential candidates grows in 2024.

Carlson sent a list of questions about Ukraine to a number of actual and potential Republican presidential candidates for 2024, including former President Donald Trump, DeSantis, Pence, former South Carolina Gov. and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, and others.

As they agree on a policy regarding support for Ukraine, Trump rebuked DeSantis. Pointing to then-Rep. DeSantis’ support for helping Ukraine in 2014, Trump claimed the governor “follows what I say. It’s a flip flop. He was completely different. What I want, he wants.”

Haley, who launched her 2024 campaign last month, contradicted both Trump and DeSantis in her response.

“America is much better off with a Ukrainian victory than a Russian victory, including avoiding a major war,” Haley argued. “If Russia wins, there is no reason to think it will stop with Ukraine. And if Russia wins, its closest allies, China and Iran, will become more aggressive.”

Speaking to reporters, Pence was also asked if Trump should drop out of the race if he is impeached. The legal scrutiny focused on Trump appears to be intensifying, and potential indictments in the coming weeks could make him the first former president in American history to face criminal prosecution.

Pence didn’t answer the question directly, instead saying, “It’s a free country. Everyone can make their own decisions.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, a potential Republican presidential nominee for 2024, speaks to party activists in New Hampshire before hosting the Cheshire County GOP's annual Lincoln-Reagan fundraising dinner March 16, 2023 in Keene, NH

Former Vice President Mike Pence, a potential Republican presidential nominee for 2024, speaks to party activists in New Hampshire before hosting the Cheshire County GOP’s annual Lincoln-Reagan fundraising dinner March 16, 2023 in Keene, NH (Fox News)

Pence headlined the fundraising gala in Keene after meeting behind closed doors in Manchester – New Hampshire’s largest city – with a group of Republican activists and leaders. He was assisted by two of his top advisors.

“His message was more about what we think. What do we find important. What are our priorities. He just listened and gave feedback, but never said the words ‘I’m running,'” said a Republican activist who attended the meeting and who requested anonymity to speak more freely, told Fox News.

The early opinion polls in the GOP nomination race show Trump as the front runner, DeSantis in second, and everyone else well behind, in the mid-to-low single digits.


But Juliana Bergeron, one of the two members of the New Hampshire committee on the Republican National Committee, told Fox News, “I think there’s room for someone like Mike Pence or Nikki Haley.”

And Bergeron, a former Cheshire County GOP chairman, said Republican voters in New Hampshire “I think they’re looking for a new generation of candidates.”

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