UNITED STATES NEWS

Trump’s threat to NATO allies draws little condemnation from GOP, reflecting his grip on the party

Feb 12, 2024, 4:58 PM | Updated: 7:54 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s claim that he once told a NATO ally that he would encourage Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to “delinquent” members of the group sent shockwaves through Europe over the weekend.

But in Washington, most Republicans downplayed or defended remarks that seemed to invite Russian aggression.

“I was here when he was president. He didn’t undermine or destroy NATO,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a longtime defense hawk.

“I think I’ll look at what his actions are rather than what his words are,” said Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, who has been a strong supporter of NATO and of sending additional aid to Ukraine as the country enters its third year of war after Russia’s invasion.

As he moves closer to winning the Republican presidential nomination a third straight time, Trump’s tightening grip on the GOP is reshaping the party’s traditional defense of longstanding military alliances and rejection of Moscow, positions that date back to the days of the Soviet Union. Many who once would have responded with alarm to the NATO remarks have largely fallen in line with Trump’s priorities or have chosen to retire as it has become clear his influence has not waned.

Trump has a long history of denigrating NATO, and former administration officials say he repeatedly threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the alliance that has been central to U.S. policy for decades. One former adviser said he expects Trump to move forward with his threats if he wins a second term.

But allies and supporters argue that, despite his denunciations, Trump did not ultimately abandon NATO while president and dismiss his claims as bluster or tough negotiating tactics.

“Just look what he did in four years,” said retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who served in Trump’s administration and is now an outside adviser. “That’s the beauty of right now. Look at the track record.”

Some, including Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., credited Trump with pressuring some countries to increase their defense spending. “He kept us in NATO. He didn’t leave NATO. He made them do what they needed to do,” he said.

Even outgoing Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a longtime Trump critic, questioned whether Trump’s comments were serious, while noting that “people in other nations read it with concern and make their calculations accordingly.”

“What Donald Trump says is often designed to elicit media and applause and outrage and he has no intent of actually doing anything about it,” he said.

But it’s clear that Trump and some around him want to change how the alliance works. In a policy video on his campaign website, Trump pledged to “finish the process we began under my administration of fundamentally reevaluating NATO’s purpose and NATO’s mission.”

Asked during a Fox News town hall last month whether he would be committed to NATO in a possible second term, he responded, “Depends if they treat us properly.”

Kellogg is a co-chair of the Center for American Security at the America First Policy Institute, one of the groups helping to lay the groundwork for a possible second Trump term. He argued Trump’s comments underscored his longstanding frustrations about countries like Germany that he believes are freeloading off the U.S.

Kellogg has proposed refashioning NATO as “a tiered alliance” in which Article 5 — the alliance’s provision for collective mutual defense — would only apply to members who reach their defense spending obligations. He stressed that he was speaking for himself, not Trump or the campaign, and declined to say whether he had discussed the proposal with the former president.

The only time Article 5 has been invoked was after the U.S. was attacked by al-Qaida on Sept. 11, 2001.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, now Trump’s last major rival for the Republican nomination, told reporters Monday she was “appalled” by Trump’s comment and questioned why he was siding against “our allies who were with us after 9/11.”

She told CNN that Trump “talked many times about getting out of NATO behind closed doors and publicly. So that’s just a fact.”

And John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser and now a strident critic, said he believed Trump would almost certainly try to withdraw from NATO if he wins a second term.

“To those who say this is just the way he bargains with NATO, I can tell you I was there when he damn (near) well withdrew,” he said. “He often referred to getting out of NATO. … He was looking for arguments to withdraw from NATO.”

Trump is often criticized for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin and suggesting cuts to aid to Ukraine as it fights Russia’s offensive. But the former president’s allies note that Russia seized Ukrainian territory in 2014 during the administration of then-President Barack Obama and then launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, with President Joe Biden in the White House.

“Democrat and media pearl-clutchers seem to have forgotten that we had four years of peace and prosperity under President Trump, but Europe saw death and destruction under Obama-Biden and now more death and destruction under Biden,” Trump adviser Jason Miller said.

Trump’s comments came at a rally in Conway, South Carolina, where he told a familiar story aimed at demonstrating his negotiating prowess. He recounted how he had been asked by an unidentified NATO member about his threat not to defend members of the transatlantic alliance who fail to meet the group’s defense spending targets of 2% of annual gross domestic product.

Nineteen countries fall short of that baseline, which Trump has often distorted as a requirement to directly pay the alliance.

“I said, ‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’” Trump recounted telling the person. “He said: ‘Yes. Let’s say that happened.‘

’No I would not protect you,” Trump said, adding: “In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.”

It remains unclear whether the conversation Trump recounted Saturday actually took place. The former president has a long history of fabrications and exaggerations. Aides declined to answer questions about the conversation.

But at a forum last month in Brussels, French European Commissioner Thierry Breton recounted that Trump made similar comments in 2020, telling NATO European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that “NATO is dead” and that the U.S. would not protect the European Union if attacked.

“Donald Trump said to Ursula, ’You need to understand that if Europe is under attack we will never come to help you and to support you,” Breton alleged Trump said at a meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“By the way, NATO is dead, and we will leave, we will quit NATO,” Trump also said, according to Breton.

Regardless of whether it happened as Trump said, the statement sparked immediate panic across Europe, which continues to grapple with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg issued a rare critical statement Sunday, warning, “Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the U.S., and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk.” And other countries threatened by Russia weighed in. Biden, meanwhile, said NATO’s protection clause “keeps American families safe” and “any individual who calls into question the durability of that vow is a danger to our security.”

But Rubio, the senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he wasn’t bothered.

“He did not talk about anything prospective. What he talked about is he told a story, an analogy, whatever we want to call it, about the way he approached it in the past,” said the senator, who led efforts to include a provision that prohibits any president from withdrawing from NATO without Senate approval or an act of Congress in the most recent defense policy bill.

“The truth of the matter is that NATO today is as strong as it’s ever been, and it wouldn’t be that way if somehow Trump had undermined it as a leader,” Rubio said.

___

Colvin and Price reported from New York. Associated Press writer Stephen Groves in Washington and Meg Kinnard in Laurens, South Carolina, contributed to this report.

United States News

Associated Press

Plane crash near Ohio airport kills 3; federal authorities investigating

VIENNA, Ohio (AP) — A plane trying to make an emergency landing at an airport in northeastern Ohio crashed, killing all three people aboard, authorities said. The Federal Aviation Administration said Saturday that the twin-engine Beechcraft 60 went down near the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Ohio at about 6:45 p.m. Friday. The Ohio State Highway […]

8 minutes ago

Firefighters battle a fire at First Baptist Dallas church on Friday, July 19, 2024, in Dallas. (Chi...

Associated Press

A fire severely damages the historic First Baptist Dallas church sanctuary

A fire all but destroyed the historic church sanctuary at First Baptist Dallas, sending smoke billowing over the city but causing no deaths or injuries, Dallas firefighters said. The fire in the Texas Historic Landmark, a Victorian-style red brick church built in 1890, was reported about 6:30 p.m. Friday, and contained about three hours later, […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

New Hampshire Gov. Sununu signs bill banning transgender girls from girls’ sports

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire has signed a bill that would ban transgender athletes in grades 5-12 from teams that align with their gender identity, adding the state to nearly half in the nation that adopted similar measures. The bill passed by the Republican-led Legislature would require schools to […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

2024 Election Latest: Growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers call for Biden to drop reelection bid

A rapidly growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers called Friday for President Joe Biden to drop his reelection bid, even as the president insisted he’s read y to return to the campaign trail next week to counter what he called a “dark vision” laid out by Republican Donald Trump. As more Democratic members of Congress urged […]

3 hours ago

Jungle Cruise Skipper Gabriel Ramos keeps up the Jungle Cruise-style humor as he joins other Disney...

Associated Press

Disneyland workers authorize potential strike ahead of continued contract negotiations

NEW YORK (AP) — Thousands of workers at Disney’s theme park and resort properties in California voted late Friday to authorize a potential strike, as contract negotiations drag on. The strike authorization was approved by an overwhelming margin, nearly 99% of the members who cast votes according to a union statement. The election was held […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is covered by U.S. Secret Se...

Associated Press

This is how Secret Service protection has changed for presidents over the years

WASHINGTON (AP) — During Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, anyone could come to the White House and see him. Come they did: mothers looking to have their sons released from military service, wives urging that their husbands be freed from prison after resisting the draft, others who simply wanted to meet the president. “Some only wanted comfort […]

4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinic visits boost student training & community health

Going to a Midwestern University Clinic can help make you feel good in more ways than one.

...

Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

Trump’s threat to NATO allies draws little condemnation from GOP, reflecting his grip on the party