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March 17, 2023

Postmodern Campaign Times

The party’s voters have put their candidates in a difficult position.

A hallmark of postmodernity is everyone has their own truth now. “My truth” is espoused by people who say “I feel” instead of “I think.” They do not care what is true, but want their truth reflected by others. Those who come closest build trust. Postmodernity precludes grace because postmodernity is built on emotions.

Thus we arrive at Campaign 2024. A poll of Republican voters by CNN found that a majority of voters want a candidate who agrees with them more than they want a candidate who can beat President Joe Biden. To beat Biden, a candidate has to build a large coalition. To agree with a voter, a candidate can alienate others and risk losing a general election. Within the GOP, in the post-Trump era, voters are battling for the future of the party at the expense of winning.

Some want a return to the pre-Trump era of the Republican Party. Others want to go in a more populist direction. Still others only want Donald Trump. The party’s voters have put their candidates in a difficult position. The goal should be to win a general election, not just a primary. Now, the candidates are forced to stake out positions that alienate them from portions of the public in order to affirm the views of others in the party and, in so doing, cost them the general election.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis finds himself in that position at the moment. Most other candidates will get there. DeSantis, when previously asked about Ukraine, said he did not want to give the Ukrainians a blank check. Now, in a written statement to Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, DeSantis said the following.

“While the U.S. has many vital national interests — securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party — becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them. The Biden administration’s virtual ‘blank check’ funding of this conflict for ‘as long as it takes,’ without any defined objectives or accountability, distracts from our country’s most pressing challenges.

"Without question, peace should be the objective. The U.S. should not provide assistance that could require the deployment of American troops or enable Ukraine to engage in offensive operations beyond its borders. F-16s and long-range missiles should therefore be off the table. These moves would risk explicitly drawing the United States into the conflict and drawing us closer to a hot war between the world’s two largest nuclear powers. That risk is unacceptable.

"A policy of ‘regime change’ in Russia (no doubt popular among the DC foreign policy interventionists) would greatly increase the stakes of the conflict, making the use of nuclear weapons more likely. Such a policy would neither stop the death and destruction of the war, nor produce a pro-American, Madisonian constitutionalist in the Kremlin. History indicates that Putin’s successor, in this hypothetical, would likely be even more ruthless. The costs to achieve such a dubious outcome could become astronomical.”

Nowhere in the statement did DeSantis say he wants to stop helping Ukraine. He explicitly said he opposes American troops on the ground, F-16s and “long-range missiles” that could allow Ukraine to “engage in offensive operations beyond its borders.” That is Biden’s position.

But DeSantis had the audacity to call it a “territorial dispute,” which is technically true, and claim it is not a “vital national interest” to the United States, with which I disagree. In an extended part of the statement, he makes clear he opposes an alliance between Russia and China, and he does not want to fund Ukraine at the expense of other policies, something that can easily be avoided by, well, funding those other policies.

DeSantis, in other words, did not say he wants to stop funding the Ukrainians. But because he did not embrace the language of existential crisis, even while not opposing funding, he has not articulated pro-Ukraine advocates’ truth, so he must be condemned. It is not just the “stolen election” Republicans who would rather be right than win. Nuance is not allowed where people’s personal truths and emotions are dominant in discourse.


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