It doesn’t take much for partisans like Chuck Schumer to come out against just about everything President Trump is for. We’ve come to expect the daily shots he and other liberal Democrats fire at this president. By now, we know all about the “Resistance.”
But you can hardly blame Schumer (and a lot of others) for wondering what Vladimir Putin has on our president; what dirt the Russian authoritarian might make public if the president flat out accuses him of meddling in our elections. Why else, Schumer wonders, would Donald Trump, a man who likes to think of himself as a tough guy, come off as such a weakling in Helsinki?
So when President Trump, standing next to Putin at that news conference in Helsinki, couldn’t even bring himself to say he believed his own intelligence advisors over Putin, Schumer said he was “appalled,” and added: “The only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump."
Maybe he does. Who knows? At this point, nothing would surprise me. But the more obvious explanation has been staring us in the face ever since we elected this president: He’s a narcissist who thinks everything is about him. Vladimir Putin looks out for Russian interests while Donald Trump looks out for Donald Trump’s interests.
And so, if he acknowledges what our intelligence community has concluded about Russian interference in the presidential election, if he thinks there’s merit to the special counsel’s indictment of 12 Russians who work for their intelligence agency, for hacking into Democratic emails and computer networks, and if he thinks Putin was behind the whole thing … then, in his mind, he’s giving ammunition to his liberal critics who think he only won because the Russians cheated on his behalf.
Which is why, standing at that podium in Helsinki, when asked whom he believes – his own intelligence community or the Russians – he said: “I have confidence in both parties. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” As an editorial in the Wall Street Journal put it: “Denials from liars usually are strong and powerful.”
What makes President Trump’s equivocation even more interesting is that before he arrived in Helsinki he went on a wrecking ball tour, bashing our allies, like the Prime Minister of England, the Germans, NATO, and the European Union. Yes, Donald Trump has shown he can be tough – on our friends.
But Mr. Trump won’t say the obvious, standing next to an adversary, President Putin. He’s too weak, or too afraid, to look Putin in the eye and say: We know you meddled in our election. We know you tried to destabilize our democracy. We know it and we won’t tolerate it. Stop or suffer the consequences.
Maybe he said something like that in private, but I'm guessing that's not likely.
On the flight home, when it became obvious that his moral equivalency routine made him look bad even to fellow Republicans, the president tweeted: “As I said today and many times before, ‘I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.’ However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!”
That’s what he needed to say in Helsinki.
One day later, back at the White House, the president "clarified" the remarks he made in Helsinki. saying he "accepts" the conclusions of his own intelligence agencies that Russia did in fact interfere with the 2016 elections. "I have full faith in our intelligence agencies," the president said. Why didn't he say that in Helsinki? Why wasn't he so clear with Putin standing next to him?
Simple: The clarification, such as it was, was issued only because he was losing support all over the place -- not just from liberal Democrats but also from longtime allies. His supposedly conservative cheerleaders on radio and TV, of course, required no clarification. They cover for Mr. Trump all the time, even when it means humiliating themselves in the process.
Concerned aides in the White House, however, knew better. They knew he needed to clean up the mess he created. And he did, with a straight face, asking us to believe that he didn't really mean what he said just 24 hours earlier. This puts the president's apologists in a tough spot: They've been all over social media blasting the intelligence community. Now that the president says our spooks got it right, where does that leave the cheerleaders?
I've long believed that sooner or later, Donald Trump will make anyone who passionately supports him ... look foolish.
The president’s most loyal supporters, of course, wouldn’t abandon him over something as trivial as his performance in Finland. So for them, a few questions:
What if Barack Obama had said he doesn’t know who got it right – U.S. intelligence or the Russians?
What if Mr. Obama had said, “I don't see any reason why it would be" the Russians who meddled in the election?
What if Barack Obama said, Gee, Mr. Putin told me he didn’t do it?
President Trump’s most passionate followers would almost certainly call for Mr. Obama’s impeachment. They'd call him un-American. They'd throw in Manchurian candidate for good measure. They'd say he's guilty of treason. Now, however, they’re content with Mr. Trump’s economy and his choice of judges for the Supreme Court. They’ll excuse anything their hero does. Anything!
On social media they were even attacking Newt Gingrich, a reliable Trump supporter, who like a lot of other Republicans, thought, this time, the president went too far, and tweeted, “President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—-immediately.”
No criticism of Mr. Trump is acceptable to those who think he can do no wrong.
And to Trump detractors, like constant critic John Brennan, the CIA director under President Obama, Donald Trump can do no right. Here's his tweet on what happened in Helsinki: "Donald Trump's press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes & misdemeanors.' It was nothing short of treasonous,"
Hysterical isn't an admirable trait in an intelligence chief -- former or otherwise.
At 2pm on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and with passion and conviction famously said:
“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
I cannot begin to imagine Donald Trump saying something like that. Ronald Reagan was a man of principle. He believed in more than himself. Donald Trump is no Reagan. Not even close.