Trump renews NATO criticism after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and also says “vote counter” can be more important than candidate

Former President Trump, in remarks to top Republican National Committee donors, renewed his criticism of NATO, hinted again at another run for the White House and suggested that the role played by the “vote counter is oftentimes more important than the candidate” in elections.

Trump’s remarks came about 24 hours after former Vice President Mike Pence took several shots at Trump during his address to the same donor retreat, which is taking place in New Orleans.

Pence told them Friday night that “there is no room in this party for apologists for Putin” – days after Trump had referred to the Russian president as “smart” and “savvy.” On Saturday evening, Trump mentioned that “somebody called me a Putin apologist the other day,” but did not bring up Pence, according to a source.

And whereas Pence defended NATO in his remarks, Trump showed he still thinks little of the alliance, dismissing it as a “paper tiger,” according to a source.

“Are all of these nations going to stand by and watch perhaps millions of people be slaughtered as the onslaught continues?” Trump said, according to a source. “At what point do countries say, ‘No, we can not take this massive crime against humanity?’ We can not let it happen. We can not let it continue to happen. “

The US and NATO allies have ruled out sending troops to help Ukraine to avoid an escalation of the conflict, but have provided military equipment, funding, humanitarian aid and diplomatic support. The US and European countries have also issued strict sanctions against Russia over the invasion.

Trump joked about the conflict, too, though, telling donors that the US should put the “put the Chinese flag” on F-22 fighter jets and “bomb the s ***” out of Russia.

“And then we say, China did it,” he said, to laughter in the room, according to the source. “Then they start fighting with each other, and we sit back and watch.”

Trump derided President Biden over his handling of Russia, and hammered him for his openness about what actions the US would and would not take to curtail Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We have to have Biden stop saying that – and this is for everyone to hear – that we will not attack Russia ever because they are a nuclear power, right?” Trump said, according to a source. “You know who is saying this? Okay, whether it’s fact or fiction, ‘We will not attack Russia. You see, they are a nuclear power.’ Oh, thanks for telling us. “

Pence, in his address Friday, warned the party’s top donors that dwelling on the 2020 election would damage its future prospects, insisting that the Republican Party “cannot win by fighting yesterday’s battles, or by relitigating the past.” He drew a stark contrast with Trump, who rarely speaks publicly without raising baseless allegations that the election was rigged. He did so again Saturday. The lesson Trump took from 2020 was this:

“The vote counter is oftentimes more important than the candidate and the Republicans are going to have to get a lot tougher,” he said, according to a source, shortly after he falsely asserted that he has won “two presidential elections.”

Trump is still popular in many circles of the Republican Party. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans said they want Trump to run for president again in 2024, according to a recent CBS News poll. And he has been indulging the idea that he’ll run again.

“We will see a Republican president reclaim that magnificent White House in 2024,” Trump said, according to a source in the room. “I wonder who that might be.”

The comment elicited some “Trump” chants from the crowd, according to a source.

Trump is still annoyed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and has been unsuccessfully trying to find a GOP senator to replace him as the Republican leader. Trump referred to him Saturday as “stupid, corrupt Mitch McConnell” and elicited some applause, according to a source.

And as he has in the past, Trump made light of climate change, dismissing it as a “hoax,” and he joked that rising sea levels will lead to “more waterfront property.” The donor event in New Orleans was held just weeks after federal officials warned Louisiana’s coastal water levels could rise by a foot and a half by 2050.

The former president also weighed in briefly on the North Carolina Senate GOP primary. Trump has endorsed Representative Ted Budd and told donors, according to a source, that Republicans need to get former Representative Mark Walker “out of that race.” Walker filed for the Senate run last week, defying Trump’s wishes that he run for a fourth term in the House instead.

Pence and Trump’s appearances on back-to-back nights could be a preview of what’s to come in 2024 if both men decide to run for president. To a private CPAC event last week, in response to a question about a 2024 presidential run, Trump told supporters they would be “very happy” and added that he knew who they “do not want as your VP”

Pence has been airing his disagreements with Trump more openly lately. Last month, he said that “Trump is wrong“for claiming Pence had the authority to overturn the presidential election, and he has said he does not know whether he and Trump will”ever see eye-to-eye“about the January 6 attack at the Capitol.

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