Former Vice President Mike Pence has joined an increasing number of Republicans in denouncing former President Donald Trump for seemingly praising Lebanese Islamist military group Hezbollah as “smart.”
During a speech in Florida on Wednesday night, Trump said that Hezbollah was “very smart” after it launched a rocket attack on Israel. The ex-president also criticized Israel over not being “ready” for the surprise Saturday morning attack launched by Hamas, another Islamist militant group based in Gaza.
Trump went on to lash out at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that he would “never forget” that the prime minister “let us down” by “trying to take credit” for the U.S. killing Iranian General Qassem Soleimani after initially disapproving of the January 2020 airstrike.
Pence, who is challenging his old boss for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, responded to the remarks during an interview with New Hampshire talk radio station WGIR Thursday morning, asserting that Hezbollah is “evil” and that the ex-president was sending the wrong “message” during the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“This is no time for the former president, or any other American leader, to be sending any message other than America stands with Israel,” Pence said. “Look, I know the former president was frustrated with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he’s been critical over the last two years. I’ve known Prime Minister Netanyahu for many years … I consider him a friend.”
“Hezbollah are not smart,” he continued. “They’re evil, OK? But the former president also said that when Russia invaded Ukraine in a similar, unprovoked, unconscionable invasion 1 1/2 years ago, he said that Vladimir Putin was a genius.”
Pence added that it was “clear” Trump was no longer “running on the agenda that we governed on,” arguing that the former president “talking about Hezbollah being smart” showed that he no longer supported “the same muscular foreign policy that we lived out every day.”
Newsweek reached out for comment to Trump’s office via email on Thursday night.
The October 7 attack by Hamas was the deadliest Palestinian militant assault on Israel in history. Israel subsequently launched its heaviest airstrikes on Gaza in history.
As of Thursday, at least 1,200 people had been killed in Israel, the Associated Press (AP) reported, citing the Israeli military. Over 1,400 people had been killed in Gaza, according to authorities there, AP said.
Pence’s criticism of Trump’s remarks on Israel echoed denouncements from fellow GOP 2024 candidates including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, ex-Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.
In a Wednesday night post on X, formerly Twitter, DeSantis questioned why Trump “would choose now to attack our friend and ally, Israel, much less praise Hezbollah terrorists as ‘very smart.'”
Christie denounced Trump for praising “the murderers” and attacking Israel “over petty personal grievances” in an X post on Thursday, pointing out that Americans were among the casualties while saying it is “time to support Israel and get our people back—not complain about lost elections.”
Hutchinson called on Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel to condemn Trump, while writing on X: “Shame on you, Donald. Your constant compliments to dictators, terrorist groups, and evil-doers are beneath the office you seek and not reflective of the American character.”
Burgum said that it was “not the time” for Trump to criticize Netanyahu while filing papers to run in New Hampshire’s 2024 election, according to Politico, while adding that he believes Hezbollah is “inhumane” and “barbaric” rather than “smart.”
Scott reportedly said that Trump’s remarks were “just wrong” while campaigning in Iowa, telling reporters, “I don’t know where he’s coming from.”
Outside of the GOP field, White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement that Trump was “dangerous and unhinged” and asked “why any American would ever praise an Iran-backed terrorist organization as ‘smart.'”
Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi also rebuked the ex-president, suggesting that Israel “obviously” cannot rely on Trump as an ally and does not “have to bother with him and the nonsense he spouts.”
The Trump campaign defended the former president’s remarks on Hezbollah in an X post responding to DeSantis, arguing that “smart does not equal good” and claiming that Trump was “clearly pointing out how incompetent Biden and his administration were by telegraphing to the terrorists an area that is susceptible to an attack.”