If there is one theme that Donald Trump has emphasised over the past decades, it is that American leaders have been weak and incompetent. But after his feeble performance in Helsinki it is Trump who looks like he lacked the cojones to take on Russian president Vladimir Putin who toyed with him at will during their joint press conference. The damage was compounded by a desultory statement that Trump recited on Tuesday. In it, he declared that he really, truly did trust his own intelligence agencies and their lapidary verdict that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. He misspoke when he expressed some dubiety about whether Russia had interfered; a would and wouldn’t, we were supposed to believe, had been interchanged. Now he expressed the conviction that there was no reason to believe Russia “wouldn’t” have tried to meddle, a distinction that took him some twenty-four hours to divulge.
But it did not escape the notice of vigilant observers that Trump, using a black Sharpie pen, had crossed out a statement in his prepared statement about bringing the perpetrators of hacking to justice and that he qualified his statement with the impromptu remark that it could have been the handiwork of “other people.” Once again, Trump bypassed his staff. And by the evening, Trump went back to what has become an old standby to try and firm up the base. He tweeted: “The Democrats want to abolish ICE, which will mean more crime in our country. I want to give ICE a big cheer! Vote Republican in November.” Yay!
The problem for Trump, as the Washington Post notes is that his attempt to propitiate Putin was so egregiously fawning that it has inadvertently legitimised the claims that the Kremlin has something on him. Until now, Trump was able to demonise the Mueller investigation as the handiwork of a nefarious deep state that seeks to topple him from power. Now it is the depths of Trump’s own devotion to Putin that are attracting wider scrutiny and, incidentally, starting to become a viable election issue for Democrats in November midterm elections. Indeed, in a scathing column, George F. Will notes that Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, a neoconservative who left the Democratic party to become a Reagan Republican, referred to the “San Francisco Democrats” at the Republican Convention in 1984, declaring that they “blame America first.” Today, Will wrote, a new species of appeaser has emerged: the Helsinki Republican.
Another sign of the mounting conviction that Putin has kompromat on Trump comes from Julia Ioffe in GQ. Ioffe says that she was always a skeptic of the notion that Putin had the goods on Trump. No longer. According to her, “What didn’t occur to me was the most obvious option, the one we saw revealed in Helsinki. When Putin was asked if he had compromising materials on Trump, Trump interjected and said, ‘I have to say, if they had it, it would have been out long ago.’ And it’s true. It’s been out for ages, since the October 2016 warning by the intelligence community, then the January 2017 report from the Director of National Intelligence, then the drip-drip-drip of revelations in the press, and indictment after Mueller indictment, the last installment coming just three days before the Helsinki presser. Trump was right. It is out there. The kompromat is the election result itself, and Trump is lashing out at the people who are trying to get him to do something on its basis: the press, the Democrats, the intelligence community, Robert Mueller, and Trump’s own Department of Justice.”
If this is correct, then Trump, who dreamed of reconciliation with Russia, may find that the legacy of his presidency is to fortify suspicions of Moscow and his chum Putin. At least Trump can busy himself, however, with the new Air Force One planes that he has been redesigning. He’s insisting that they be painted red, white and blue. “It’s going to be incredible,” he said. “Top of the line.” Come to think of it, maybe the planes will be his true legacy rather than any legislative or foreign policy accomplishments.