"Inexplicable. Head-scratching. Beyond understanding. Baffling.” So goes the commentary about Trump’s press conference in Helsinki.
Really? By now we should all know why Donald Trump sided with Russian president Vladimir Putin against his own country and why, Wednesday, when a reporter asked him if Russia is still targeting U.S. elections, Trump answered “no.”
There he goes again protecting Putin — or not, according to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, whose lies are coming at an ever faster clip. She claimed at her Wednesday press availability that Trump was turning down any more questions, not saying no to a specific one on meddling. Then he took another question.
This is the same Sanders who said last week that chief of staff John Kelly was cringing at breakfast not because the president was delivering a tongue-lashing to the president of NATO but because there were no eggs and bacon, just a lousy pastry. It’s impossible to take her excuses seriously.
Trump is not so complicated that any scratching of heads is needed to get to why he persists in his protection of Putin. It’s the best way to insure Trump’s reelection. Amid the impulses driving Trump, none is more potent than not being a loser and proving to elites they were wrong about him. His constant denial that Russia meddled is not just to protect his fragile ego from the suggestion he didn’t win fair and square, or to deny collusion, or stop the witch hunt; it’s to exonerate Putin, whose help dragged him over the finish line in the electoral college in 2016 and which he needs again in 2020.
To that end, like a latter day O.J., Trump pretends to search for the real meddler, or meddlers while privately knowing it wasn’t the 400-pound guy in the basement, other countries, or other people. When he’s honest with himself, which we have to hope is more often than he is with us, Trump knows it’s the world leader he most admires who interfered. Still he’s determined to do almost nothing to stop it.
And why would he? It all worked to his favor, despite Trump’s oft-repeated claim that any help given went to Hillary Clinton. Trump has to give that up after Putin announced in Helsinki that Trump was the horse he rode.
It’s not enough to say thank you. Trump has to keep the music playing loud enough for Putin to hear. From the gist of special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments, Trump knows how sophisticated, how costly the Russian actions were, and how likely they are to take place again. Yet he’s made no moves to deny Putin a glide path to a sequel, no elevating election security to a priority as he did for the calamitous separating children at the border, which has all the money and attention in the world.
To the contrary, the White House hasn’t spearheaded anything close to the kind of Manhattan Project that protecting our democracy deserves, not even the cost-free appointment of an election czar, or a request to Silicon Valley to help. Small efforts to counter voting machine fraud, bots, fake news (the real kind) go along at a snail’s pace at the FBI and Homeland Security. Congress has allotted a mere $380 million, a pittance to the cause. It’s likely that Russia is putting more money into interfering in 2020 than the U.S. is putting in to stopping it.
Other excuses for Trump’s sinking to a near treasonous level of obsequiousness with Putin are not nearly as convincing as insuring he keeps Putin on board for the 2020 election. Kompromat in the form of a video of Trump’s lascivious conduct with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel, no problem. If consorting with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal (during the same visit to Lake Tahoe) and paying both off, or 20 women accusing him of various levels of assault, hasn’t made a dent in his 90% approval among Republicans, what’s a long ago night out on the town in the Kremlin going to do?
The same goes for owing Russians so much money they own him. He’ll keep stonewalling on the tax returns that would show it and he’ll put on his con man casino owner hat to lecture us on the wisdom of taking on debt. Bad business practices, kinky sex, it’s all factored in.
But not the final solution of Trump selling out the country to a foreign enemy to perpetrate his reign. He bends over to please Putin: he continued to snub Germany’s Angela Merkel, slammed Britain’s Theresa May in an interview before taking her hand to walk into an elegant dinner at Blenheim Palace, called the European Union the enemy and Putin his friend. That’s the way it goes when you begin paying protection money. The cost keeps going up, before you know it, you’re in bed with a guy who poisons journalists, and you plan a summit about nothing to display on a world stage your homage for the Russian leader.
And, in the end, it’s with impunity among Republicans who could slow him down. Sure the ailing Sen. John McCain said Trump was “disgraceful,” when he may have been tempted to say he preferred a president who wasn’t captured, and the retiring Senator Bob Corker said a dam had broken. It turned out only to be cracked and for less than 24 hours.
With this bowing to Putin, Teflon Trump knows now there’s no taboo he can’t break, no red line he can’t cross, no failure of character too great for his party, more afraid of losing their next race than losing their souls. At this point, Trump, with Putin’s help, may well get re-elected. Some of the other Republicans, however servile, won’t. It serves them right. They know what’s happening. A few of them banding together, and the dam would break. Their silence is a scandal in itself.
Margaret Carlson is a columnist for the Daily Beast. She was formerly the first woman columnist at Time magazine, a columnist at Bloomberg View, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and managing editor at the New Republic. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.