Ron DeSantis heads abroad on trade mission and goes viral answering 2024 question

The governor's allies see the trip as burnishing his foreign policy bona fides.

April 24, 2023, 2:39 PM

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to launch a 2024 presidential campaign in the coming months, began an international trade mission on Monday that will take him to Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

DeSantis is leading a Florida delegation to Israel, Japan, South Korea and the U.K. to meet with government and business leaders.

The trip is seen by some allies as an effort to expand his foreign policy chops ahead of his likely presidential campaign launch by this summer.

The governor's office said in a news release on Thursday that the trip would focus on building upon Florida's current economic relationships with each country.

In Japan on Monday, DeSantis and his wife, Casey, met with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, where they discussed Japan being a strong trade partner with Florida. Later in the day, the governor held a roundtable with Japanese business leaders.

"We had the privilege of meeting with Prime Minister Kishida to build on discussions we had during the [Southeast U.S.] Japan Conference in Florida this past fall," DeSantis wrote on Twitter. "We look forward to strengthening the relationship between Japan and Florida."

However, it was how he answered a question about potentially running against Donald Trump for the White House that quickly went viral online.

According to the widely seen clip, DeSantis was asked about polling showing him behind the former president in a hypothetical 2024 primary race.

DeSantis responded, "I'm not a candidate, so we'll see if and when that changes."

He's privately indicated to allies that he'll run for president starting in May or possibly June, sources previously told ABC News.

His week will continue with other international stops. In South Korea, he will meet with the Gyeonggi Province governor, Kim Dong-yeon, and Prime Minister Han Duck-soo.

While in Israel, DeSantis will deliver the keynote address at an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the country's founding, on Thursday. He'll also meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, Netanyahu said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

And in the U.K., DeSantis will meet with Foreign Minister James Cleverly.

Along with his wife, he's joined on his trip this week by Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd and Florida Secretary of Commerce Laura DiBella.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd at Adventure Outdoors gun store, Thursday, March 30, 2023, in Smyrna, Ga.
John Bazemore/AP, FILE

John Thomas, a GOP political strategist and the founder of the pro-DeSantis super PAC Ron to the Rescue, told ABC News that he believes the travel will burnish DeSantis' foreign policy bona fides.

"[DeSantis] does have a biographical background in foreign policy as a naval officer, but there is no replacement for shaking hands, having the photo-op, being on the ground and being able to name drop that you have relationships with certain world leaders," Thomas said.

"Any major candidate for the Oval Office needs to check that [foreign policy] box and improve their credentials so that they have credibility when they're delivering their eventual foreign policy message on the campaign trail and on the debate stage, and this is the first step for Gov. DeSantis to do just that," Thomas said.

DeSantis, a very popular if controversial leader in the GOP, has drawn scrutiny for some of his recent remarks about international issues.

His travel abroad will come just over a month after he initially called Russia's invasion of Ukraine a "territorial dispute" and said the war was not of national interest for the United States.

Those comments received backlash from other leading members of the GOP.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted a veiled rebuke: "To those who believe that Russia's unprovoked and barbaric invasion of Ukraine is not a priority for the United States – you are missing a lot."

And Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also criticized the governor of his state, saying in a radio interview, "Obviously, he doesn't deal with foreign policy every day."

DeSantis later said that his words were "mischaracterized" and that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a "war criminal."