Trump’s Terrible WeekPosted on: July 19, 2018, by : Jeff Turner
By Jeff Turner
This week has not been particularly kind to Donald J. Trump. His joint press conference with Vladimir Putin on Monday July 16th in Helsinki proved nothing short of disastrous. CNN’s Anderson Cooper remarked that it was “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American President at a summit in front of a Russian leader that I’ve ever seen.”
During the summit, Trump, the President of the United States, was by no means presidential, launching his various attacks against the media, the Mueller probe, Democrats, and Hillary Clinton’s emails. But when the opportunity came for him to publicly rebuke Putin for the Russian election interference, Mr. Trump said: “My people came to me…they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he said it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
And with one sentence, Trump drew widespread bipartisan condemnation at a level he’s never before faced. Even Fox News (save for Sean Hannity) was critical of the President’s performance in Helsinki and his lack of statesmanship. Everyone from House Speaker Paul Ryan, to Senator John McCain, even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, were all condemning Trump’s statements at the summit.
It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone, Trump having displayed this pattern of behavior before. He’s been extremely critical of the Russia probe, but never before in front of the man who is believed to have authorized the election interference. The backlash was so intense that the next day Trump walked back his statement, saying he meant to say “wouldn’t” instead of “would.” The context of the statement however would seem to indicate otherwise.
Trump has been lauding Vladimir Putin since his 2016 election campaign, the Russian President also bestowing lavish praise upon Trump. Trump likes people who speak positively of him, while lambasting those who criticize him even in the slightest in a manner similar to a schoolyard bully. Many have used the word “narcissist” to describe Mr. Trump, and he certain does seem to fit that definition in many respects. But in this instance Trump’s narcissism, if that’s what it is, seems to have backfired on him. It resulted in him essentially bowing to a man whose government, under his orders, is trying to undermine the electoral process here in the U.S. Even Trump’s strongest supporters will find difficulty reconciling that with the strongman, autocrat image the President likes to project of himself.
Russia is not a friend of the United States. Putin and many in his government are still angry about Russia losing its superpower status at the end of the Cold War. They’re out for revenge. They want to make Russia great again. And Putin obviously sees Trump as a means to bring that about.
But will the GOP now finally turn on Donald Trump after what happened in Helsinki? Probably not. The GOP has put party ahead of country in their dealings with the President, who remains popular among his base of diehard supporters who cling to his every word. It is rather difficult to reason with a diehard Trump supporter, even when confronting them with facts. Trump appeals to their emotions, namely their prejudices and fears, some of them even oblivious to those prejudices and fears he has preyed on. Trump has projected those fears onto various marginalized groups in this country. He’s tapped into their anger and resentment, and in the process taken control of the Republican party.
But not everyone who voted for Trump would be classified as a diehard supporter. And cracks are starting to show even in his base. The Helsinki summit, Trump’s reluctance to condemn Putin’s election interference in 2016 prove that there are some things not even the GOP establishment can overlook. However, many of these figures are now saying they take Trump at his word that he “misspoke.” They also have often defended Trump’s past controversial statements as just words. Words do matter and can be harmful. But maybe those members of Congress, Republican voters, and others who still support Mr. Trump should look at his actions. The people he’s surrounded himself with in his administration, many unqualified to head the cabinet departments they are in charge of, the legislation he has championed, like the Republican tax cut, attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, all of these would seem to indicate that Trump doesn’t care about the American people, let alone those who voted for him.
Lyndon Johnson once said “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” This is how Trump maintains his base. Not all Trump supporters are racist however, a few even coming to regret voting for him. But this “divide and conquer” strategy is how Trump maintains his base, is what got him elected to begin with, and further polarizes the electorate. And unless something changes, the damage done by his administration will last for quite some time.
But some kinks in his armor have shown. His tendency to stand firm and retaliate when faced with criticism of any type have backfired on him in response to his comments in Helsinki, where he caved to the widespread backlash. But what will it take for his supporters to start turning on him in droves? At this point, the only thing Trump has going for him, aside from Republican majorities in Congress, is a relatively stable economy he inherited from Obama, one that Trump takes credit for. Aside from that, or if Trump continues to have more Helsinki-like moments that generate such a harsh backlash, I don’t see them doing that. The fact that he’s faced such a backlash this week though could be a sign that Trump could be in trouble further down the road.
Actions speak louder than words. The sooner Trump supporters figure out that he honestly doesn’t care about them, the better.