The White House on Thursday condemned former President Donald Trump for describing Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, as “very smart.”
In a statement, White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said that although it doesn’t typically comment on the 2024 presidential race, Trump’s remarks were “dangerous and unhinged.”
“It’s completely lost on us why any American would ever praise an Iran-backed terrorist organization as ‘smart.’ Or have any objection to the United States warning terrorists not to attack Israel,” Bates said. “Especially now as Israel is fighting back against one of the worst acts of mass murder in the country’s history.”
“This is a time for all of us to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel against ‘unadulterated evil,’” he added. “That’s what the President is doing as commander in chief.”
In remarks at a Club 47 event in West Palm Beach, Trump blamed President Joe Biden for the deadly Israel-Hamas war by baselessly claiming that the Biden administration had funded the attacks with the $6 billion in oil revenue it recently unfroze as a result of a prisoner exchange with Iran, which has historically funded both Hamas and Hezbollah. Hezbollah has been exchanging fire across the border with Israel since Hamas’ surprise attack last weekend.
Trump said: “And then two nights ago, I read all of Biden security people — can you imagine? National defense people and they said, ‘Gee, I hope Hezbollah doesn’t attack from the north because that’s the most vulnerable spot.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute. You know, Hezbollah is very smart. They’re all very smart.’”
In a statement Thursday, the Trump campaign said, “President 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. Smart does not equal good. It just proves Biden is stupid.”
Trump also went after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in his speech, saying he “has been flying around the country setting fire to his reputation and destroying the reputation frankly of Florida.”
DeSantis also took aim at Trump on Wednesday night for describing Hezbollah as “very smart” in a post on the X platform that included a video of the former president’s remarks: “Terrorists have murdered at least 1,200 Israelis and 22 Americans and are holding more hostage, so it is absurd that anyone, much less someone running for President, would choose now to attack our friend and ally, Israel, much less praise Hezbollah terrorists as ‘very smart.”
“As President, I will stand with Israel and treat terrorists like the scum that they are,” he added.
DeSantis has sharpened his criticisms of Trump in recent days. He argued Tuesday in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Democrats have a better chance of winning the White House in 2024 if Trump wins the GOP presidential nomination.
“I think a referendum on Joe Biden means we win, if I’m the candidate. I think a referendum on Donald Trump, if that’s it, then I think the Democrats would win,” DeSantis said on “Morning Joe.”
He said although there are “millions” of voters who disapprove of Biden, believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and “want to vote for a Republican,” Trump is “just a dealbreaker for them. They just won’t do it.”
Since Hamas launched its attacks against Israel last weekend, Republican 2024 presidential candidates have blamed the Biden administration for the attacks that have prompted war. Several of the contenders have insisted, without evidence, that the U.S. funded the attacks as a result of the prisoner exchange deal with Iran.
Biden has repeatedly stressed his administration’s support for Israel amid its war with Hamas and efforts to free American hostages this week. His administration has also pushed back against the GOP criticism, insisting that the $6 billion in oil revenue that Iran recently regained access to did not come from U.S. taxpayer dollars.
The U.S. and Qatari governments have agreed to block Iran from accessing any of the $6 billion, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo communicated to House Democrats Thursday, according to three sources familiar with the remarks, two of whom were in the room.
Adeyemo said the money “isn’t going anywhere anytime soon,” two of the sources said.
Israel has launched airstrikes into the Gaza Strip and Hamas has fired rockets toward Tel Aviv as the war stretches into its sixth day. Israel’s military said it is preparing for a possible ground operation in Gaza, a densely populated strip that is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, half of whom are children. The Israel Defense Force’s preparations come after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed a wartime unity Cabinet and vowed to “crush and destroy” Hamas.
Summer Concepcion is a politics reporter for NBC News.
Katherine Koretski is a 2024 NBC News campaign embed.