Republican NATO hawks are witnessing an ongoing saga in the Republican Party under the Trump era, where a subtle pattern of attrition is surfacing. Over the span of more than eight years, former President Donald Trump has systematically intensified provocations, banking on his allies eventually succumbing to a fatigue that dampens their resistance – a trend that has played out repeatedly.
NATO at the Center
A prime example of this phenomenon is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Trump recently delivered his most audacious statement to date regarding the alliance, indicating that he would actively “encourage” Russia to target NATO allies who fall short in their defense spending commitments.
“Trump’s stance on NATO is reckless, risking stability by encouraging Russia to undermine allies’ defense commitments,” according to Bloomberg.
Trump’s Rally Revelation
During a rally in South Carolina, Trump recounted a conversation. In this conversation, a leader questioned the United States’ commitment to protect them in the event of a Russian attack. This questioning was based on perceived insufficient financial contributions. Trump’s response was unequivocal: “You didn’t pay. You’re delinquent. No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”
While some prominent Republicans have voiced criticism of Trump’s comments, others have responded with nonchalance or even defended him. This signals a notable shift from their earlier positions.
Republican Hawks Yielding?
Once stalwart opponents of Trump’s stance on NATO, Republican hawks now seem to have acquiesced to the prevailing Trumpian direction within their party. Senators who once vehemently opposed Trump’s views on NATO are now either indifferent or actively supporting his latest provocative statements.
Graham’s Change of Tone
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, who in 2016 warned that Trump’s comments pleased Russian President Vladimir Putin and weakened the U.S. commitment to NATO, recently expressed no worry about Trump’s latest remarks.
Sen. Tom Cotton, a staunch advocate for NATO in 2016, now supports Trump’s position, arguing that NATO countries failing to meet financial commitments are already encouraging Russian aggression.
Tillis Downplays Concerns
Sen. Thom Tillis, who previously insisted that Congress would prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO, downplayed the recent remarks, suggesting they don’t reflect the president’s genuine beliefs.
Sen. Marco Rubio, aligning with Republican NATO hawks, dismissed concerns, stating that Trump’s statements should be understood as pressure tactics on NATO allies.
The common thread in these responses is the belief that Trump is leveraging rhetoric to pressure NATO allies. Sen. Roger Marshall urges people to take Trump seriously but not literally. However, past experiences highlight the risks of assuming Trump’s words are mere posturing. Congress has previously taken his statements on NATO seriously, passing legislation to counteract potential impulses to withdraw.
“Trump’s rhetoric pressures NATO. Marshall advises taking him seriously, not literally. Congress acts cautiously, remembering past risks,” said Barron’s.