Trump said in a speech to the Union League of Philadelphia that he will ask Congress to reverse cuts to defense spending enacted under the 2013 budget sequester once he takes office and submit a new budget to rebuild the US military, which Trump described as unprepared to confront the threats the US faces.
Trump did not say whether the increase in military spending would match or exceed pre-sequester funding levels, but a senior campaign aide said Trump would most likely seek to boost defense spending to higher levels than when the sequester went into effect in 2013 after Congress failed to reach a new budget agreement, slashing both defense and domestic spending.
Trump did not outline how large the increase would be, but the senior campaign aide said eliminating the sequester would amount to a roughly $500 billion reinvestment over 10 years, which Trump said he would seek to "fully offset" through "common sense reforms that eliminate government waste and budget gimmicks."
"History shows that when America is not prepared is when the danger is greatest. We want to deter, avoid and prevent conflict through our unquestioned military dominance," Trump said as he lamented the cuts to defense spending, which he said is "on track to fall to its lowest level as a share of the economy." The US spent more than $600 billion in defense spending in 2015.
Trump also vowed to help offset the cost by seeking additional payments from countries where the U.S. has military bases, including Germany, Saudi Arabia and Japan.
Trump's call for eliminating the sequester cuts to defense spending sits in stark contrast to his initial reaction to the sequester's across-the-board cuts, which Trump downplayed weeks before they went into effect.
"It's a very small percentage of the cuts that should be made. And I think, really, it's being over-exaggerated," Trump told Fox News in February 2013. "Frankly, this is a very minor amount of the cuts that have to be made, ultimately, and a lot of people are saying that."
And while Trump has consistently called for building out the US military, the real estate mogul said last fall that he would look to bolster the military while still spending "a lot less" than current defense spending levels.
"I'm gonna build a military that's gonna be much stronger than it is right now. It's gonna be so strong, nobody's gonna mess with us. But you know what? We can do it for a lot less," Trump said on NBC's "Meet the Press" last October.
But Trump on Wednesday outlined multi-billion dollar investments to bolster the US military, mostly calling for increasing in spending to boost the elements of the military most useful in traditional warfare, not in confronting terrorism.
The Republican nominee also called for increasing the number of ships and submarines and increasing the Air Force's fighter aircraft to 1,200 from 1,113.
Trump also stressed the need to bolster the US's missile defense systems, including modernizing Navy cruiser ships.
"The Obama-Clinton administration tried repeatedly to remove our cruisers from service, then refused to modernize these very old, aging, aging ships. They're old, they're tired," Trump said.
Hillary Clinton, Trump's Democratic rival, also supports ending the sequester on military spending in addition to the sequester's cuts to domestic spending.
"Here's what we have to do -- we can't lose our military edge. That means giving the Pentagon the stable, predictable funding it needs to make smart investments," she said last week at the American Legion in Cincinnati. "We cannot impose arbitrary limits on something as important as our military. That makes no sense at all. The sequester makes our country less secure. Let's end it and get a budget deal that supports America's military, our families and our country. And let's make reform a priority, so that the Defense Department spends its budget on the right things."
Trump also contrasted his vision of US foreign policy with Clinton's record, accusing her of being "trigger happy and very unstable" and describing a Middle East that was more stable before her tenure as secretary of state.
Clinton's campaign dismissed Trump's criticisms, likening him to a "schoolyard bully."
"When she lays out a thoughtful speech outlining why he is unfit to be commander in chief, he calls her unhinged. She gives a speech on his disturbing history of racial discrimination and ties to white supremacists and the alt-right movement, he calls her a bigot," Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "You could dismiss these actions as insecure schoolyard behavior but this man is running to be president of the United States."
While Trump and his advisers have argued that Clinton did not learn from the mistakes of the Iraq War -- for which she voted as a senator -- and drove the US into another blunder by arguing in favor of military intervention in Libya, Trump supported both of those military interventions.
Despite his words to the contrary on the campaign trail, Trump said he favored
invading Iraq one month before Congress voted to authorize the use of military force and continued to praise the invasion in its first months. He also called on the US to intervene militarily in Libya
to stem the worsening humanitarian situation in the country.
The Trump campaign, in a statement Wednesday night, denied any flip flops in the Republican nominee's position.
"Mr. Trump has been consistent with the need to adequately fund our defense and military spending to ensure that America's national security is never compromised," Trump Rapid Response Director Steven Cheung said. "Mr. Trump will ask Congress to fully eliminate the defense sequester and will submit a new budget to rebuild our military. As part of removing the defense sequester, Congress must fully offset the costs of increased military spending, thus, making government leaner and more responsive to the public."