For those keeping score at home, Donald Trump hit an all-time low in his post-summit news conference from Helsinki with his friend (co-conspirator?) Vladimir Putin.
This is not an overstatement. There is no possibility of overstatement here. In fact, you couldn’t possibly disagree with this assessment unless you were either Mike Pence or Sean Hannity.
The moment the news conference ended, CNN’s Anderson Cooper rolled out “disgraceful” to describe Trump’s performance, and for the next few hours, pundits and politicos would compete in a deep thesaurus dive searching for the perfect word or phrase: shameful or astonishing or deeply troubling or devastating or dangerous or imbecilic or disingenuous or shocking or unprecedented or Munich-like appeasement or, according to former CIA chief John Brennan, treasonous. Brennan also called for “patriotic Republicans” to finally stand up to Trump.
I’ll go with David Gergen, who has served under every president in recent memory and who put it this way: “Never have I seen a president so badly betray his own country on the world stage.”
Reporter: Do you hold Russia accountable for anything?
Trump: We’re all to blame.
Check the link. Trump says Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned him that Putin was to blame for interference in the 2016 election. Trump says Putin made an “incredibly strong and confident” argument that he wasn’t. If you’re wondering which side Trump came down on,Trump said, “I do not see any reason why it would be” Russia’s fault.
This was such a low point that you’d almost — yes, I said almost — think that such a presidential-sized betrayal would finally shock the nation into action.
Okay, we know what happened — Trump chose Putin over country while slamming the FBI in front of the former KGB agent — even if we’re not sure why. Does Putin really have something on Trump? Is this yet another reworking of The Manchurian Candidate? As a confirmed anti-conspiracy theorist, I’ve long thought that Trump’s unwillingness to concede Russia’s role in the 2016 election must be about his ego and the Electoral College or maybe something in his tax returns or perhaps just his bromance with the world’s tyrants. In a video message to Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger went with the groupie theory, saying Trump looked like a “fanboy” ready to ask for Putin’s autograph.
As The Atlantic’s James Fallows put it: Conscious tool or useful idiot? In some ways, it doesn’t matter. There are a hundred other theories, which we can probably leave Bob Mueller to sort out. The question is not whether Ronald Reagan is rolling over in his grave, but what do we do now.
There is an answer, but it could come only from Trump’s Republican enablers. This is what they call a gut check. If you don’t count John McCain, who is home battling brain cancer, Republicans hold a 50-49 majority in the Senate. This is easy math, if difficult politics. If only one Republican were to become an independent and caucus with Democrats, imagine the stunning change, the subpoenas, the hearings, etc.
Actually, the lone Republican — yes, more would be better — wouldn’t even have to defect. All it would take is joining Democrats in protecting Mueller’s investigation and in calling for hearings on Trump’s Make Russia Great Again summit.
I don’t expect that to happen. I don’t expect much to happen. Some are suggesting that any Trump aide with a conscience should resign. Some are suggesting that if this crisis heats up, there could be the need for a scapegoat. John Kelly, anyone?
If you think this is a crisis point for America — and I certainly do — that doesn’t mean you have to believe it will play out any differently from all the rest. Isn’t the essence of Trumpworld that we now live in the post-tipping-point era?
There has been tough criticism from some Republicans, mostly from the usual suspects like McCain — who said he’d never seen a U.S. president so “abase himself” before a tyrant — and from those who have already announced they’re not seeking re-election. More often the comments resemble those from our own Cory Gardner, who said he strongly disagreed with Trump’s words and actions in Helsinki (and presumably those from Belgium earlier in Trump’s world travels), but couldn’t actually bring himself to mention Trump’s name.
He also couldn’t bring himself to defend Mueller or to note that it was only three days ago that Coats had warned of more Russian interference, saying, “The red lights are blinking again.” Instead, Gardner said he hoped this administration wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of past administrations. You could call that weak tea. I’d call it weak-kneed.
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The best American moments in Helsinki came from an AP reporter and a Reuters reporter — you know, enemies of the people — who were the lone American journalists called on to ask questions at the news conference. They put Trump on the spot in asking him to choose between Putin and U.S intelligence. We watched Trump as he faltered, once again blaming the “witch hunt” for the problems between Russia and the United States instead of blaming the witch — okay, the thug — standing next to him.
It was a disgraceful performance, but hardly surprising. I mean, you weren’t really expecting Trump to debate Putin on Crimea, were you? When Mueller indicted the twelve Russian intelligence agents for interfering in the 2016 election, Trump’s game plan was set. After lashing out against our allies in Europe, Trump would buddy up to Putin, who deserves great credit for not once cracking a smile as Trump prattled on about Hillary Clinton and her emails and Peter Strzok and his texts.
You can argue, I guess, whether Trump betrayed his country by his performance. What’s inarguable is that he humiliated himself and everyone who has ever supported him.
This column was originally published by the Colorado Independent.