Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem sharply criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin for his military’s actions in Ukraine on Friday. But both agreed withthat the foreign leader is “smart” and “savvy.”
“I want to crush Vladimir Putin, too. But you don’t pretend, you don’t pretend that your enemy is weak when he’s not. You don’t pretend he’s dumb when he’s smart,” Pompeo told CBS News chief election and campaign correspondent Robert Costa on Friday.
Pompeo, who served as secretary of state and CIA director in the Trump administration, told “Fox News Sunday” in January that Putin is a “very talented statesman. He has lots of gifts. He was a KGB agent for goodness sakes. He knows how to use power. And we should respect that.”
“You need to know your adversary. And then you need to beat the tar out of your adversary… and if to pretend otherwise, to say, ‘Oh, he’s just a madman,’ risks American lives. And I will never do that to the American people,” Pompeo told CBS News on Friday.
Pompeo and Noem, both potential Republican presidential candidates in 2024, are navigating the political dynamics, at times uneasily, of balancing Trump and the base with their own views on Putin.
Trump called Putin “smart” in a radio interview with “The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show” on Tuesday, after the Russian president gave a speech that laid out his justification for Russia’s move into Ukraine.
In interviews at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, both criticized the Biden administration for not being strong enough on Russia ahead of its invasion of Ukraine. Noem said Biden “kicked the door open” for Putin by canceling the Keystone XL pipeline and establishing regulations on the oil and gas industry.
“I think [Putin] is an evil man. He’s an evil man who craves power and he only respects strength, and President Biden’s been weak, and that is why we have the consequences we see playing out today in Ukraine,” Noem said.
Noem added that if Biden is able to send a “clear message” on increasing America’s energy production and supplying it to European countries in NATO, U.S. troops would not be necessary on the ground in Ukraine.
Pompeo said while it doesn’t make sense to send more U.S. forces to Ukraine, the troops already in Europe should be prepared to support neighboring NATO countries to Ukraine and should ensure that “no NATO country suffers what the Ukrainian people are suffering today.”
Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, another potential Republican candidate for president in 2024, told CBS News on Thursday that the U.S. can’t afford to send more troops into Europe, and said the U.S. needs to decrease their troop presence in Europe in order to focus on China.
“I’m opposed to having them involved in the fighting. That is not in our security interest, we can take other actions, and should in Europe that are tough on Russia. We’ve got to keep focus on our number one security priority and that’s East Asia. That’s China,” he said.
When asked about if the U.S. should establish a “no fly zone” over Ukraine, Pompeo remained vague.
“I can’t imagine that there aren’t tools that create far less risk for the United States of America than a no fly zone, that could have prevented this from happening,” Pompeo said.
Both declined to add much on a potential 2024 run. Noem said she was not “thinking through” a bid for president, and that she’s focused on South Dakota. She said she would support Trump in 2024 if he ran.
“What I wanted to do [at CPAC] is take an opportunity to talk about South Dakota and most people. The first time they heard about me was when the liberal press started attacking me because of the decisions I made during COVID. Nobody really knows my background,” Noem said.
Pompeo, who was in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, said he’s been supporting candidates up and down the ticket for the 2022 midterm elections.
When asked if Trump jumping into the race would change his own mind, Pompeo said, “If one thinks they’re the best person to be president of the United States, they have an obligation to continue down that road. I don’t know what President Trump will decide… I know this much. This fight that I’ve been engaged in for an awfully long time is worthy and we all ought to go work on it together.”