Mike Pence, weighing 2024 presidential run, distances himself from possible rivals on Ukraine

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Former Vice President Mike Pence is separating himself from Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis on the issue of Ukraine as he weighs a run for president in 2024.

Trump, who is running for a second term, and DeSantis, who is widely expected to launch a campaign later this year, have both suggested that opposing Russia’s war on Ukraine is not "vital" to American interests.

"Anybody that thinks that America has no national interest in supporting Ukraine in their fight against the Russian invasion is wrong," Pence said in an interview with the Des Moines Register on Saturday.

Pence, who was in Des Moines for a foreign policy forum hosted by the Bastion Institute, said the U.S. should never send forces to Ukraine. But he said Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration needs to send other aid at a faster pace.

"Anyone who thinks that Putin will stop if he takes over Ukraine is wrong," Pence said. "And it would not take too long for Russian tanks to be arrayed at the border of a country that we would have to go and fight to defend."

Those comments stand in contrast to those of Trump and DeSantis, who currently lead early polling of the still-forming presidential field.

In a Fox News questionnaire, which host Tucker Carlson shared on Twitter, DeSantis said that although the U.S. has many vital national interests, "becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them."

"We cannot prioritize intervention in an escalating foreign war over the defense of our own homeland, especially as tens of thousands of Americans are dying every year from narcotics smuggled across our open border and our weapons arsenals critical for our own security are rapidly being depleted," he said.

Trump shared similar sentiments, saying that opposing Russia in Ukraine is not a vital American interest.

"Our objective in Ukraine is to help and secure Europe," Trump wrote. "But Europe isn’t helping itself. They are relying on the United States to largely do it for them. That is very unfair to us. Especially since Europe takes advantage of us on trade and other things."

More:Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says supporting Ukraine is not a 'vital' U.S. interest, calls the war a 'territorial dispute'

Pence offered some praise for Biden's approach while urging him to do more.

"It's commendable what they've done in providing support and martialing NATO allies," he said. "But they need to pick up the pace dramatically. President Biden said we'll be there as long as it takes. My response is it shouldn't take that long."

Pence will make a decision about 2024 "likely in the coming month"

Pence was in Iowa once again as he weighs whether to formally launch a presidential campaign against his former running mate and a growing slate of others. He is scheduled to return March 29 for a dinner with the Johnson County Republican Party.

Pence told the Register he and his wife will make a decision “likely in the coming month.”

According to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released earlier this month, Pence is viewed favorably by 66% of Iowa Republicans. But he has the highest unfavorable rating of the four politicians tested among Iowa Republicans at 26%. Another 7% are not sure.

Those numbers have changed substantially since June 2020, when the Register last tested Iowa Republicans' attitudes toward Pence. Then, 86% viewed him favorably, while just 7% viewed him unfavorably and 7% were not sure.

Pence said that if he becomes a candidate, he will consider the polling and how to create inroads with Iowans.

"If I'm a candidate we'll think harder about that," he said. "But I think a lot of people around the country know me as vice president and not as a conservative governor of a Midwestern state or as a conservative leader in the Congress of the United States. And so if we become a candidate, I know we're very well known, but I don't know how well people know us."

Pence has become a pariah among many of Trump's biggest supporters after he refused to help overturn the results of the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021. That day, some who rioted at the U.S. Capitol erected makeshift gallows and chanted "hang Mike Pence" as others flooded the halls of Congress in search of the vice president.

Just 58% of Iowa evangelicals — the group consistently showing the most support for Republicans and seemingly one of Pence’s most natural constituencies — say they have favorable feelings toward him.

Still, Pence has met a warm reception so far in Iowa, drawing crowds in Creston and at the Iowa State Fair.

"Look, my old running mate enjoys support across Iowa and around the country," he said. "There are other candidates and others that may get in, but I also have a sense that different times call for different leadership."

During his remarks at the forum, Pence repeatedly spoke about the accomplishments of the "Trump-Pence administration," including getting tough on China, rebuilding the American military, securing the Southern border and negotiating the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

Pence told the Register a man approached him after the forum and thanked him for speaking highly of the administration.

"I said, 'I'm incredibly proud of the record of our administration.'" Pence said. "It didn't end well. It's difficult. And I've been candid about that. But I hear people wanting to get back to those values. And so we've been encouraged in our visits here in Iowa, including today."

Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at bpfann@dmreg.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: In Iowa, Mike Pence distances himself from Trump, DeSantis on Ukraine