Trump 's claim that he once told a NATO ally that he would encourage Russia «to do whatever the hell they want» to «delinquent» members of the group sent shockwaves through Europe over the weekend.
But in Washington, most Republicans downplayed or defended remarks that seemed to invite Russian aggression.
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«I was here when he was president. He didn't undermine or destroy NATO,» said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a longtime defense hawk.
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«I think I'll look at what his actions are rather than what his words are,» said Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, who has been a strong supporter of NATO and of sending additional aid to Ukraine as the country enters its third year of war after Russia's invasion.
Trump's tightening grip on his party as he closes in on a third straight Republican presidential nomination has reshaped his party's traditional defense of longstanding military alliances and rejection of Moscow going back to the days of the Soviet Union. Many who once would have responded with alarm to such remarks have largely fallen in line with Trump's priorities or have chosen to retire as it has become clear his influence has not waned.
Trump has a long history of denigrating NATO, and former administration officials say he repeatedly threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the alliance that has been central to U.S. policy for decades. One former adviser said he expects Trump to move forward with his threats if he wins a second term.
But allies and supporters