Donald Trump has offered his bluntest assessment yet of Nato, calling it “obsolete” and insufficiently geared towards combating international terrorism, the “single biggest threat” in the world.
Taking questions from voters at a CNN town hall broadcast from Wisconsin, which holds its primary elections next Tuesday, the leading Republican candidate doubled down on comments he had made at the weekend to both the New York Times and The Washington Post assailing the Brussels-headquartered military alliance, to which he said the United States was paying too much money.
“Nato has to be changed or we have to do something. It has to be rejiggered or changed for the better,” he said in response to a question from an audience member. He said the alternative to an overhaul would be to start an entirely new organisation, though he offered no details on what that would be.
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
1/14 On Isis:
"Some of the candidates, they went in and didn’t know the air conditioner didn’t work and sweated like dogs, and they didn’t know the room was too big because they didn’t have anybody there. How are they going to beat ISIS?"
2/14 On immigration:
"I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me —and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words."
3/14 On Free Trade:
"Free trade is terrible. Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have stupid people."
PAUL J. RICHARDS | AFP | Getty Images
4/14 On Mexicans:
"When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists."
5/14 On China:
"I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?... I love China. The biggest bank in the world is from China. You know where their United States headquarters is located? In this building, in Trump Tower."
6/14 On work:
"If you're interested in 'balancing' work and pleasure, stop trying to balance them. Instead make your work more pleasurable."
7/14 On success:
"What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate."
8/14 On life:
"Everything in life is luck."
9/14 On ambition:
"You have to think anyway, so why not think big?"
10/14 On his opponents:
"Bush is totally in favour of Common Core. I don't see how he can possibly get the nomination. He's weak on immigration. He's in favour of Common Core. How the hell can you vote for this guy? You just can't do it."
11/14 On Obamacare:
"You have to be hit by a tractor, literally, a tractor, to use it, because the deductibles are so high. It's virtually useless. And remember the $5 billion web site?... I have so many web sites, I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a web site. It costs me $3."
12/14 On Barack Obama:
"Obama is going to be out playing golf. He might be on one of my courses. I would invite him. I have the best courses in the world. I have one right next to the White House."
13/14 On himself:
"Love him or hate him, Trump is a man who is certain about what he wants and sets out to get it, no holds barred. Women find his power almost as much of a turn-on as his money."
14/14 On America:
"The American Dream is dead. But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before and we will make America great again."
He also reiterated his concern that the US takes too much of the burden within Nato and on the world stage. “The United States cannot afford to be the policeman of the world, folks. We have to rebuild this country and we have to stop this stuff…we are always the first out,” he offered.
Threatening to take Republican Party even closer to the brink of a nervous breakdown, Mr Trump rowed back on a previous pledge to back whomever becomes its nominee - in the event it is not him. “No, not anymore,” he told the night’s moderator Anderson Cooper, opening up the possibility that he mght launch a third-party bid for the presidency if he is not eventually given the Republican crown.
Questioned about his determination to stand by his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who on Tuesday was charged with minor battery in connection with his alleged grabbing of a female reporter, Michelle Fields, at a Trump event in Florida on 8 March, Mr Trump attempted to suggest that she might have presented a real danger at the time.
In a response that attracted scorn on social media, he noted that Ms Fields was carrying a pen, which “could have been a knife, it could have been just a pen which is very dangerous.” He pressed on suggesting even that the Secret Service might have thought her pen was a “little bomb.”
Appearing on the same broadcast earlier in the evening, Senator Ted Cruz, who appears to have drawn even with Mr Trump in Wisconsin, denied that he was merely staying in the race to stop the billionaire and intended one way or another to seize the nomination for himself. “We are competing to win. We're not competing to stop Donald Trump,” he said.