We have come to expect that certain members of the GOP will back even the most extreme, dangerous, or just plain absurd comments that Donald Trump makes. This time, however, the most shocking recent comments are coming from a Senator that Trump used to dub “little Marco.”
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) made the comments on CNN in an interview with Jake Tapper. If anything, Rubio got away lightly.
Trump’s most recent jolting and dangerous comment pertained to NATO and Trump’s refusal to come to Europe’s defense if they “don’t pay their dues,” followed by an assertion that he would invite (or encourage) Russia in an attack on Eastern Europe.
Once again, it appears as though Trump doesn’t understand how NATO is funded. It appears that Trump believes that nations pay the United States for membership. Regardless, nations are required to pay into NATO command a certain percentage of their GDP.
Rubio immediately latched on to the demand that nations pay their share. He twisted what Trump said to put his answer in a better position by saying, “That’s not what happened.” Rubio went on to say that the same statement had been made in the past. Of course, that portion is true to some extent, but the shocking portion of Trump’s comment was encouraging Russia.
Rubio’s answer avoided the subject entirely:
“What he’s basically saying is, if you see the comments, he said NATO was broke or busted until he took over because people weren’t paying their dues. And then he told a story about how he used leverage to get people to step up to the plate and become more active.”
NATO was far from “broke.” Yes, the U.S. perhaps paid a disproportionate share. But with that financial structure in place came the power to dictate who would do what, and the U.S. had wide latitude to essentially order European countries to act in accord with U.S. demands.
Moreover, NATO “worked” in the sense that Europe remained stable. A war in Europe would cost European countries and the U.S. a much bigger percentage of their GDP than keeping the peace.
But Rubio didn’t address the comment about encouraging Russia. Getting other countries to pay their share isn’t controversial. Refusing to defend NATO countries and inviting a Russian attack is well beyond anything Trump has previously said. Rubio refused to address a comment that could be the genesis of a world war.
In a telephone interview, the Times reports that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) seemed “surprised” to even be asked the question. Graham said, “Give me a break — I mean, it’s Trump.” Oh, well, that’s reassuring!
Graham went on to note that “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.”
True as that may be, Graham skips two vitally important qualifiers. First, Trump didn’t mention encouraging or inviting a Russian attack in his first term, perhaps looking at the election and his chances of winning. Second, former President Trump didn’t say anything about encouraging Russia to wage a war against our allies as he now faces a second term — a more dangerous term.
Senator Tom Cotton also avoided the “encouraging” Russia issue, and he, too, jumped on the failure to pay sufficient dues. Cotton singled out Germany and then laid the blame of a possible Russian invasion on the feet of European countries while contrasting Obama and Biden versus Trump.
Cotton said, “Strength, not weakness, deters aggression.”
Again, two caveats are critical. Russia was getting everything it wanted under Trump anyway, including doubts about whether the U.S. would come to Europe’s defense if Russia invaded. The signal fractured confidence within NATO and may have played a role in deals made within Europe and Russia while Trump was president.
Avoiding the topic implies support or, at the very least, it indicates that the Senators won’t oppose the statement in deference to Trump and wouldn’t say anything should the situation come to pass.
Some Trump administration alum did speak out against the comment, namely H.R. McMaster, Mr. Trump’s second national security adviser, and a retired Army lieutenant general used a single-word description: “Irresponsible.”
To be fair and in contrast to the unbridled support mentioned above, some Republicans couldn’t support Trump’s comments, though their opposition was mostly timid.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) bizarrely blamed Trump’s staff, as if Trump is incapable of understanding such a basic issue. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called the comment a “stupid thing to say.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) summarized the situation as it should be seen as a whole. Welch said that Trump “normalizes belligerent behavior. But in fact, he means it.”
Donald Trump does mean what he says when he talks about policy. And Trump especially means what he says when he talks about Russia — which he barely criticized when Russia invaded Ukraine and since then has blamed President Biden.
An American presidential candidate is openly rooting for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the current U.S. President.
If only Ronald Reagan could see this…I almost always finish columns like these with one of the most famous moments in Trump’s presidency:
MAGA doesn’t want any bill with aid to Ukraine in it.
Nancy Pelosi was exactly right when she said to Donald Trump, “with you, all roads lead to Putin.” pic.twitter.com/hwTQzEsAKf
— Jo (@JoJoFromJerz) February 5, 2024
Editor’s note: This is an opinion column that solely reflects the opinions of the author
Jason Miciak is an associate editor and opinion writer for Occupy Democrats. He's a Canadian-American who grew up in the Pacific Northwest. He is a trained attorney, but for the last five years, he's devoted his time to writing political news and analysis. He enjoys life on the Gulf Coast as a single dad to a 15-year-old daughter. Hobbies include flower pots, cooking, and doing what his daughter tells him they're doing. Sign up to get all of my posts by email right here: