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G.O.P. Officials, Once Critical, Stand by Trump After NATO Comments

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Defending Donald Trump or deflecting his statements, some top G.O.P. officials reflected the trajectory of a party that the former president has largely bent to his will.

Donald J. Trump's comments from the rally stage were not part of his teleprompter remarks, a person close to him said.Credit...Sean Rayford for The New York Times

After Donald J. Trump suggested he had threatened to encourage Russia to attack "delinquent" NATO allies, the response among many Republican officials has struck three themes — expressions of support, gaze aversion or even cheerful indifference.

Republican Party elites have become so practiced at deflecting even Mr. Trump's most outrageous statements that they quickly batted this one away. Mr. Trump, the party's likely presidential nominee, had claimed at a Saturday rally in South Carolina that he once threatened a NATO government to meet its financial commitments — or else he would encourage Russia to "do whatever the hell they want" to that country.

In a phone interview on Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seemed surprised to even be asked about Mr. Trump's remark.

"Give me a break — I mean, it's Trump," Mr. Graham said. "All I can say is while Trump was president nobody invaded anybody. I think the point here is to, in his way, to get people to pay."

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Senator Marco Rubio said, "I know exactly what he has done and will do with the NATO alliance."Credit...Haiyun Jiang for The New York Times

Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican Party's top-ranking official on the Senate Intelligence Committee, struck a matter-of-fact tone as he explained on CNN on Sunday why he was not bothered in the least.

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