Democrats and some Republicans were quick to condemn Donald Trump after the former president said Saturday night he would “encourage” Russia to attack the nation’s NATO allies who did not meet their financial targets.
“Trump just said he would let Russia take a European country under certain circumstances and I guess the Scolding Industrial Complex is gonna tell us not to say Russia Trump Trump Russia but honestly this seems kinda important,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) posted.
At a rally in South Carolina on Saturday night, Trump recounted a conversation with an unnamed head of state about how he would respond if a NATO member who had not paid enough money for its defense was attacked by Russia. “One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, ‘Well, sir, if we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?’” Trump said.
“‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’” Trump recounted responding. ‘“No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.’”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) slammed the remarks Saturday night in a post on X.
“Trump bragged that he’d encourage Russia to ‘do whatever the hell they want’ to our NATO allies if they didn’t spend enough on defense,” Schiff wrote. “He’s more interested in aggrandizing himself and pleasing Putin than protecting our allies. It would be enough to make Reagan ill.”
Others used Trump’s statements to draw a contrast between the current frontrunner in the GOP presidential primary, and President Joe Biden — who has been on the defense over his mental acuity after a special counsel report described him as an “elderly man with a poor memory.” The White House, Biden and other allies have forcefully refuted the characterization.
“Biden: 14.8m jobs; lower costs for insulin; repairs to road/bridges; health care for vets; cleaning up the environment; stronger alliances. And yes: mixed up a country leader’s name. And this happened, too,” Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) wrote on X, linking to a clip of Trump’s remarks. “Is there really a choice?”
Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty that launched NATO in 1949 calls for every country to defend every other in the event of an attack. “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all,” it states. Article 5 was invoked in defense of the United States after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
The 31 current members of NATO have agreed, as a target figure, to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense, though some nations are below that figure.
The White House blasted Trump’s comments as “unhinged” Saturday night.
“Encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged — and it endangers American national security, global stability, and our economy at home,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.
European leaders also criticized Trump’s comments.
“Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the US, and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.
“Reckless statements on #NATO’s security and Art 5 solidarity serve only Putin’s interest. They do not bring more security or peace to the world,” Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said on X.
A spokesperson for Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Other Trump detractors also chimed in.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley — the only high-profile Republican still battling Trump for the GOP nomination — hammered Trump for showing deference to Russia.
“NATO has been a success story for the last 75 years. But what bothers me about this is, don’t take the side of a thug, who kills his opponents. don’t take the side of someone who has gone in and invaded a country and half a million people have died or been wounded because of Putin,” Haley said Sunday during an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“Now, we do want NATO allies to pull their weight. But there are ways you can do that without sitting there and telling Russia, have your way with these countries. That’s not what we want,” she added.
Former Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie called Trump’s statements “absolutely inappropriate,” but the remarks are “consistent with his love for dictators,” the former New Jersey governor said during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.
John Bolton, who once served as Trump’s national security adviser, said the threat of Trump withdrawing from NATO if he wins a second term in the White House would be very real.
“When he says he wants to get out of NATO, I think it’s a very real threat, and it will have dramatically negative implications for the United States, not just in the North Atlantic, but worldwide,” Bolton said on MSNBC’s “This Weekend.”
But on the right, some defended Trump’s comments, downplaying the meaning behind the striking remarks.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on CNN’s “State of the Union” said he doesn’t think that Trump was really inviting Russia to attack NATO nations. “That’s not how I view that statement,” he told host Jake Tapper.
Rubio said Trump was merely making a point by telling a story. “He doesn’t talk like a traditional politician,” Rubio added.
David Cohen contributed to this report.