Former President and Republican front-runner Donald Trump's warning to NATO allies that he would not protect them from a future attack by Russia if they fail to contribute to the defence alliance has irked fellow Republicans and Democrats who called Trump unfit for the top post.
"This is why I've been saying for a long time that he's unfit to be president of the United States," former Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie said in an interview with NBC's 'Meet the Press' programme.
Trump's controversial statement came at a rally in South Carolina on Saturday night. Recalling 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 defence was attacked by Russia, Trump said: "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?"
"‘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."
The White House had lashed out at Trump’s comments, calling it "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.
Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who is Trump's lone remaining challenger for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, too hit out at Trump for his remarks, stating "the last thing we ever want to do is side with Russia."
"Dont take the side of someone who has gone and invaded a country and half a million people have died or been wounded," she told CBS's "Face the Nation."
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump's, told Reuters in a brief hallway interview that he disagreed "with the way he (Trump) said it." However, Graham added: "Russia didn't invade anybody when he was president and if he's president again they won't."
Republican Senator Thom Tillis too blamed Trump's aides for failing to explain to the former president that the United States, as a NATO member, is committed to defending any member of the alliance that is attacked. Politico also quoted Republican Senator Rand Paul saying Trump's remarks were a "stupid thing to say."
However, some Republicans also defended Trump. "Virtually every American president at some point, in some way, has complained about other countries in NATO not doing enough. Trump's just the first one to express it in these terms. But I have zero concern because he's been president before," Senator Marco Rubio said in an interview with CNN.
Jason Miller, senior Trump campaign advisor, in a statement, sidestepped the remark encouraging Russia to take on some NATO allies, saying: "Democrat and media pearl-clutchers seem to have forgotten that we had four years of peace and prosperity under President Trump," while levelling attacks against Biden.
Meanwhile, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg too reacted to the controversial remarks, stating such comments put European and American soldiers at an increased risk. "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,” Stoltenberg said.
"I expect that regardless of who wins the presidential election the US will remain a strong and committed NATO Ally," he said, stressing that any attack on a NATO country would be "met with a united and forceful response."