Right wing media reacts to Trump NATO comments

Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Right-wing media figures downplay and defend Trump's claim that he'd encourage Russia to attack NATO allies

Right-wing media outlets defended former President Donald Trump after he threatened that he “would encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to NATO allies that do not meet voluntary defense spending targets. Fox News, Newsmax, and other outlets dismissed the GOP presidential front-runner’s widely condemned threat as a solid negotiation tactic for handling NATO “moochers” and suggested the 75-year-old alliance is strategically useless.

  • Trump suggested he would allow long-standing treaty members to be attacked if they become “delinquent” in their NATO payments

    • NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is a 75-year-old, pro-democracy security alliance that’s become increasingly important following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. NATO’s primary goal is to coordinate security efforts between its 31 member states, which span North America and Europe. Founded on the principle of collective defense, the treaty states that an attack on one member is to be considered an attack on all members. [BBC News, 2/12/24]

    • While NATO members pledge to commit at least 2% of their gross domestic product to defense spending, this is a nonbinding, voluntary commitment. Furthermore, the money does not go to NATO, which has no army, but is a contribution members make to their own military budgets. Contributions increased after Russia invaded Ukraine. [ABC News, 2/15/24]

    • During a campaign rally in Conway, South Carolina, Trump said that he warned NATO allies he “would encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to countries that are “delinquent.” “You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?” Trump recounted telling a NATO ally who approached the then-president about a threat to abandon NATO. “No I would not protect you,” Trump said, “In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.” [The Associated Press, 2/11/24; New York Times, 1/14/19]

    • NATO president Jens Stoltenberg responded, “Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the U.S. and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk.” [CBS News, 2/12/24

  • Right-wing media downplayed and defended Trump’s comments as a “negotiation” tactic

    • Infowars’ Alex Jones said Trump’s comment was just a “smart-ass statement.” Before playing Trump’s rally speech, Jones remarked, “I get Trump's sick sense of humor, because I’ve got it too. I’ve quit being sarcastic as much, because I’m just as smart-ass as he is.” [Infowars, The Alex Jones Show, 2/12/24]

    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro half-dismissed Trump’s comments as “obviously quasi-joking” and defended them as a negotiation tactic. Shapiro argued, “Donald Trump is making the argument here that if NATO doesn't pay up, the United States will not. That's called leverage. OK? So using leverage is not the end of the world.” [The Daily Wire, The Ben Shapiro Show, 2/12/24

    • Over a chyron that read, “Fake news always eager to twist Trump’s words,” Newsmax host Greg Kelly said, “This is negotiation. This is classic Trump.” Kelly continued to justify Trump’s attitude toward NATO, “This is incentivization. And it worked. He incentivized them to give the money and they did, and NATO, as a result, is stronger than ever before.” [Newsmax, Greg Kelly Reports, 2/14/24

    • Fox host Greg Gutfeld wrongly credited NATO’s announcement that more countries will meet the 2% spending target to Trump’s threat, claiming, “Trump’s not even in office and he’s influencing NATO.” As The Guardian explains, “Budgetary decisions are taken over a period of months, meaning the NATO chief’s spending declaration cannot be considered a direct response to Trump’s comments.” [Fox News, GUTFELD!, 2/14/24; The Guardian, 2/14/24

    • The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles said Trump is just “busting chops.” Knowles ranted, “Donald Trump is saying, ‘I'm serious. Pay your bills or else. Pay your bills. You owe us money. Give me that money. Run your pockets. Give me what you owe me.’” [The Daily Wire, The Michael Knowles Show, 2/12/24

    • Newsmax host Eric Bolling said that it is “fair in a negotiation” to “threaten to not to defend [NATO allies].” Bolling slammed “leftist media outlets” for “promoting the idea that Trump said he wouldn’t defend NATO allies and would let Russia do whatever it wanted.” Bolling concluded, “His approach to NATO, and the U.N. for that matter, is one that this country needs and was a long time coming.” [Newsmax, Eric Bolling the Balance, 2/12/24

  • Outlets took Trump’s side to undermine NATO “moochers” 

    • Newsmax host Rob Schmitt described NATO members as “moochers.” Schmitt argued that Trump’s position that NATO is “another global coalition that unfairly relies almost entirely on the United States enrages the global order, Washington establishment, the military-industrial complex, and basically every talking head in the media.” He added, “Taxpaying Americans actually love this politician that calls out our country's moochers while the rest let our allies walk all over us.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 2/12/24]

    • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk claimed NATO is still alive “because entrenched bureaucrats and the oligarchs of the national defense industry, they need you to hate Russia.” Kirk said, “It's the same reason why government programs never disappear.” [Real America’s Voice, The Charlie Kirk Show, 2/13/24

    • Blaze TV host Steve Deace argued “the debate” about the U.S. withdrawing from NATO should “go even further than the former president did,” asking his audience, “What is the purpose of NATO existing at all in its current form?” Deace, who has previously parroted Kremlin propaganda, insulted NATO alliance members as “formally Western, Judeo-Christian democracies that are still Western, not very Judeo-Christian, and are pseudo-democracies in many places now.” He continued, “Help me explain, or help me understand, why even continuing NATO at all, really, isn't at the very least obsolete. The best thing I could say about it is, it's a great grift for defense contractors.” [BlazeTV, The Steve Deace Show, 2/13/24; Media Matters, 9/30/22]