WASHINGTON ― U.S. allies spooked by Donald Trump’s recent indication that he won’t automatically defend them might have expected some reassurance from the rest of his party. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proved that such a hope was futile.
“I am willing to kind of chalk it up to a rookie mistake,” McConnell told The New York Times, referring to Trump’s statement that he wouldn’t defend NATO allies from a Russian invasion without first considering their contributions to the alliance.
The seasoned lawmaker also offered the expected paeans to NATO: The U.S. will fulfill its promise to defend the alliance’s members the way they’ve helped Washington go after the perpetrators of Sept. 11; the group has a storied and successful history.
But for two big reasons, McConnell’s remark will likely cause more anxiety for anyone worried about the global instability and potential warfare that would result from a reduced U.S. commitment to NATO.
First of all, it’s of a piece with the GOP’s general approach to Trump’s excesses: Hope for the best, but don’t publicly freak out. But ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. Republicans’ tacit acceptance of the self-described billionaire’s unorthodox positions is already affecting the party as it embraces platform language that’s friendlier to Russia’s ambitions in Europe ― and to the interests of top Trump lieutenants who would directly benefit from less punishment for Russian belligerence abroad.
The second cause for concern is that McConnell has also followed the pattern of others who know better than to support Trump’s talk of a weaker alliance. Like Trump’s liberal critics, the senator didn’t really explain why he believes U.S. membership in NATO is essential or why his party’s members should care about it.
Trump ― who seems to know what Republican voters want better than McConnell and his ilk ― has cottoned on to the fact that rank-and-file party members are largely unconcerned with this kind of rhetoric. So there’s little incentive for him to rein it in, unless advocates of the alliance suddenly make it politically necessary to do so.
McConnell is, then, being either spineless or short-sighted. In either case, the news diminishes what little hope remained for peace in Europe under a Trump presidency.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump