Donald Trump stands by remarks about not defending NATO members after backlash


NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump again said Wednesday that if he returns to the White House, he would not defend NATO members that don’t meet defense spending targets, days after he set off alarms in Europe by suggesting he would tell Russia to attack NATO allies he considered delinquent.

Speaking at a campaign rally in South Carolina, he retold the story of his alleged conversation with the head of a NATO member country that had not met its obligations. This time, though, he left out the line that drew the most outrage — encouraging Russia “to do whatever the hell they want.”

“Look, if they’re not going to pay, we’re not going to protect. OK?” he said Wednesday.

Trump hewed closer than usual to his prepared remarks after a freewheeling event days earlier in which he also drew backlash for mocking his Republican rival Nikki Haley’s husband for being missing from the campaign trail. He also revised his comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he has often praised as tough and previously suggested treated him like the “apple of his eye.”

Instead, Trump cited an interview Putin gave Wednesday to Russian state television in which he said he would prefer Biden as president.

“Putin is not a fan of mine,” Trump said.

Haley, Trump’s former U.N. ambassador and his last major rival in the GOP presidential race, has been condemning Trump’s remarks for days about her husband Michael Haley, who is deployed in Africa with the National Guard.

Trump on Wednesday insulted Nikki Haley and highlighted his wide lead in polls over her, but he focused more of his attention on President Joe Biden, whom he’s expected to face in the 2024 general election.

Biden has also excoriated Trump for his remarks about NATO, calling them “dangerous,” “un-American,” and “shocking.” Biden has also pushed for a foreign aid package to assist Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion.

Trump has opposed the aid and said Wednesday that the U.S. should instead provide a loan to Ukraine.

“Why should you just hand it over to them?” he said.

A spokesperson for Biden’s reelection campaign said Wednesday, “Donald Trump just gave Vladimir Putin the best possible Valentine’s Day present: his pinky-promise to give Putin the green light to mow down our allies in Europe if he’s elected president.”

Trump also tried to explain away his remarks in January in which he repeatedly confused Haley for former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, drawing questions about his mental fitness. Both Biden, 81, and Trump, 77, face widespread questions among voters about their age and readiness for a second term.

“I’m not a Nikki fan and I’m not a Pelosi fan and when I purposely interposed names they said, ‘He didn’t know Pelosi from Nikki, from Tricky Nikki,” he said. “No no, I think they both stink. They have something in common.”

Though Haley has had more campaign appearances lately than Trump, she did not appear at any events Wednesday. Don Bolduc, a Haley surrogate, failed New Hampshire Senate candidate and retired brigadier general, held a news conference earlier Wednesday aimed at Trump’s criticism of Michael Haley.

SFA Inc., the super PAC supporting Haley’s campaign, has been playing its latest ad on a mobile billboard in the area of Trump’s Wednesday night rally, a spot calling Trump “sick or clueless” for criticizing the military.

Trump’s negativity toward Haley has ramped up as the season’s votes have gotten underway and the campaign has moved to her home state.

Last month in New Hampshire, Trump essentially ruled Haley out as a potential running mate, saying she “is not presidential timber.”

He said Wednesday night that his criticism of her means that “she will never be running for vice president,” a comment that was met with loud cheers from the audience.

But Trump quickly pivoted to lavish praise on South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who dropped out of the presidential race in November. Scott has been seen as a potential running mate for Trump, whom he endorsed and has campaigned for, including on Wednesday night.

“You’re a much better candidate for me than you were for yourself,” Trump told Scott.

While serving as South Carolina’s governor, Haley appointed Scott to the U.S. Senate in 2012. Her son, Nalin, has been introducing Haley at her events and several times referred to Scott as “Sen. Judas,” a reference to the Biblical story of the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ.

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