Conservatives once again fell in line behind Donald Trump on Monday, signing off on comments the GOP front-runner made over the weekend that read more like veiled threats against nations he deems are failing NATO’s guidelines.
“If we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?” Trump recalled a leader of a “big country” asking him.
“No, I would not protect you,” Trump told a crowd in Conway, North Carolina, on Saturday. “In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills,” Trump said he replied.
By Monday, several GOP leaders, including Senators Marco Rubio, John Cornyn, Tom Cotton, and Lindsey Graham, defended incendiary remarks against America’s strongest allies.
“NATO countries that don’t spend enough on defense, like Germany, are already encouraging Russian aggression and President Trump is simply ringing the warning bell,” Cotton told The New York Times.
“Strength, not weakness, deters aggression. Russia invaded Ukraine twice under Barack Obama and Joe Biden, but not under Donald Trump,” he continued, seemingly ignoring the notoriously cushy—and sometimes subservient—relationship between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Graham took the same stance, completely giving the bombastic former president the benefit of the doubt in a seemingly black and white scenario.
“Give me a break—I mean, it’s Trump,” Graham said. “All I can say is while Trump was president nobody invaded anybody. I think the point here is to, in his way, to get people to pay.”
Cornyn also brushed off the explosive comment, telling Politico that he doesn’t take Trump “literally.” Meanwhile, the Texas Republican uplifed comments by House Speaker Mike Johnson that the U.S. should not “allow Vladimir Putin to prevail in Ukraine because I don’t believe it would stop there. It would probably encourage and empower China to perhaps make a move on Taiwan.”
Representatives from NATO have slammed Trump’s remarks, condemning the presidential candidate for double-crossing the 31 member-state alliance by inviting violence from one of its largest and most vocal international adversaries.
“You can’t put enough adjectives on this to describe how treasonous such a comment is,” former NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark told CNN.
Trump has long aggressed America’s relationship with the international military alliance, baselessly asserting that other NATO members have failed to pay their dues, which are determined by guideline rather than mandate, and even though the United States has never been shortchanged by other members. The Cold War organization has “no ledger that maintains accounts of what countries pay and owe,” according to former Obama staffer Aaron O’Connell, who explained to NPR in 2018 that “NATO is not like a club with annual membership fees.”