President Donald Trump set his sights on the NATO alliance long before he took the oath of office. “NATO benefits Europe far more than it does the U.S.,” the president wrote in 2016. When pressed by a New York Times reporter whether, as president, he would come to the “immediate military aid” of NATO allies in the Baltics if Russia invaded, Trump said that would be contingent only on whether those states had “fulfilled their obligation to us.” As president, he has continued to question the value of NATO, even as his Cabinet officials unequivocally back the Atlantic alliance and his administration pursues admirably hawkish policies toward Russia.
The president’s reflexive defenders lean heavily upon the administration’s actions that strengthen NATO to avoid confronting the president’s rhetorical efforts to weaken it. But ignoring the damage Trump is doing does not negate it. And that damage is evident in a recent study conducted by Eurasia Group research fellow and Professor Mark Hannah. He found that Republican voters are now willing to shirk America’s responsibility to its allies. When asked if America should “initiate a military operation in Estonia to expel Russian troops” in the event of an invasion, a “slight majority” of Republicans said “no.”