Trump Trips, But His Critics Melt Down
Regarding his Helsinki joint press conference with Vladimir Putin, perhaps President Trump should channel Frank Sinatra and croon, “Regrets, I’ve had a few…but then again, too few to mention.” After all, both at home and abroad, the record of his first 18 months in office represents an almost uninterrupted string of successes large and small.
Nonetheless, I believe there are important lessons to be gleaned from the president’s missteps Monday -- and even bigger realities unveiled by the almost comical overreaction of his critics, particularly those in the media.
Let’s summarize the respective gaffes:
Trump’s Unforced Errors
- Moral Equivalence: There are indeed ample reasons to treat the conclusions of U.S. Intelligence with appropriate scrutiny. If George W. Bush had viewed intel reports 15 years ago with more skepticism, he could have saved thousands of American lives and trillions of taxpayer dollars. After all, we elected President Trump to serve as the head of our intelligence agencies, not the other way around. That said, even if our intelligence community operators deserve healthy doubt, President Trump erred in appearing to place them on an equal moral plane with Putin and his fellow KGB alumni.
- Conflation of Collusion and Interference: in Helsinki, Trump pursued the same illogical confusion the media fall into constantly. It is entirely possible – and in fact, highly likely – that the Russians, among many other nations, interfered in our election and that there was no cooperation between the Trump campaign and such efforts. These truths are separate, distinct, and need not comingle.
- Tone: Trump appeared too deferential to Putin and, frankly, a bit sluggish. Given his arduous schedule, especially on this trip, he’s more than earned an “off” day. But Trump did not command the scene as is his norm.
- Overreaction: Trump critics, from Republican senators to media anchors, practically fell over each other attempting to surpass the latest outraged condemnation of the president, as if he had just handed Alaska back to Putin, along with our nuclear codes. Longtime establishment insider David Gergen said, “Never have I seen a president so badly betray his country.” The New York Times’ Tom Freidman wrote that Trump engaged in behavior that “violates his oath of office.” Former CIA Director John Brennan tweeted accusations of treason and mentioned “high crimes and misdemeanors” in a clear reference to impeachment. Such hyperbolic demagoguery reveals both their visceral disdain for Trump as well as their indissoluble campaign to subvert the 2016 verdict of the people via impeachment.
- Hypocrisy: The aforementioned John Brennan should understand why those of us who campaigned against the Swamp in 2016 often distrust Washington careerists, even within the intelligence community, since his own CIA was forced to admit it spied on the very Senate committees charged with overseeing his agency. Not all dishonest state “meddlers” have Russian passports, it would seem. In addition, mainstream media largely shrugged when President Obama unwittingly spoke into a hot microphone and promised then-Russian President Medvedev “flexibility” after the 2012 election, free from worries about facing American voters again -- a message that Dmitry promised to “transmit … to Vladimir.”
- Ignorance of Diplomacy: We elect presidents to direct our foreign policy, and they rightfully have wide latitude in style and prescriptions to further American interests. President Reagan often chose fairly direct and even adversarial tactics, calling the USSR an “evil empire.” In contrast, President Trump seems to favor the approach of President Theodore Roosevelt, who preferred to “speak softly and carry a big stick.” When Trump encounters despotic world leaders in person, from China’s Xi to North Korea’s Kim to Putin, he often lavishes them with praise and concurrently pursues iron-fisted pressure tactics, from trade to military measures. In the case of Russia, his actions speak far more loudly than his inartful quotes at the Helsinki presser, including arming Ukraine, harsh sanctions, as well as the battlefield slaughter of hundreds of Russian mercenaries by American forces in Syria.
While I acknowledge President Trump could have done better at the podium in Finland, it also seems abundantly clear that his critics, especially those in legacy media, so grossly misrepresent his actual approach and policies that they sway public opinion toward him.