He did it without mentioning Trump’s name, one thing he and Obama have in common. There are some fights even a cutthroat narco-warrior like Cocaine Mitch won’t pick, I guess.
.@Senatemajldr: "We value the NATO treaty. It's been the most significant military alliance in world history. We believe the European Union countries are our friends and the Russians are not." pic.twitter.com/mzBOS9xYlQ
— CSPAN (@cspan) July 17, 2018
The harshest criticism of Trump that I’ve seen on the right has come not from congressional Republicans, of course, or from the outliers at Fox News but from members of his own administration, whispering their disgust to the media (anonymously, of course). From Axios’s report of yesterday’s Helsinki presser:
A former senior White House official, who worked closely with Trump, immediately texted us: “Need a shower.”
One of Trump’s own former National Security Council officials texted: “Dude. This is a total [effing] disgrace. The President has lost his mind.”
CBS “Face the Nation” anchor Margaret Brennan, who was in the audience, told AP she was messaging some U.S. officials during the speech who said they were turning off the television.
Others told WaPo that Trump’s remarks were “very much counter to the plan” for the press conference, which allegedly involved more than 100 pages of briefing materials for him beforehand about why he shouldn’t trust Putin. More from the Daily Beast:
“I honestly had little to no good expectations for this,” said a senior Trump political appointee who works on issues surrounding Russian disinformation efforts, adding that the event “went about as well as I expected.”
“Trump looked incredibly weak up there. Putin looks like a champion,” the official continued. “I’d like to say I’m shocked, but this is the world in which we live now.”
It’s rare that Trump tries to backtrack publicly due to political pressure on something he’s said which he clearly believes, but when the heat reaches a certain point he’ll do it. The caveat, though, is that as the heat subsides he’s apt to backtrack in the other direction and double down on what he said initially. That’s what he did after Charlottesville: It was at his second press conference, after issuing an anodyne statement that attempted to clean up his first one, when he uttered the famous line about “very fine people on both sides.” He’s done it before on Russiagate too, suggesting at times that he believes after all that it was Russia who interfered in 2016 only to backslide towards ambiguity later. There’s no chance that he’ll stick firmly to what he said at his presser this afternoon about accepting the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was to blame. Just let things cool off for a bit, then ask him again.
As for McConnell, he did his best to sound tough here…
"The Russians need to know that there are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016, and it really better not happen again in 2018."
– Mitch McConnell pic.twitter.com/4cOLBOt6lJ
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) July 17, 2018
…but the fact remains that congressional Republicans aren’t going to do anything that forces them into a direct confrontation with Trump before 2020. McConnell may not fear Trump but his caucus and especially Ryan’s caucus do. If another round of hacked Democratic emails appear this fall, what Congress does will depend largely on how Trump reacts. And there’s no reason to think he’ll be more inclined to believe his own intel chiefs about 2018 hacking than he was about 2016 hacking, particularly if the hacked material reinforces his own political message. A liberal friend told me yesterday that he thinks the smartest thing Putin could do would be to hack news outlets and release any emails they can find suggesting political support for Democrats. (And there are surely emails out there to that effect, if only of the “Hope Dems win in November!” variety.) What would Trump do in that case, take umbrage at a criminal violation of Americans’ privacy by a foreign adversary or crow that Fake News has finally been exposed for the biased hacks they are? What would righty media do? If you know the answers to those questions, ask yourself what congressional Republicans are likely to do. McConnell’s not an “all talk” guy to the extent most members of his caucus are but what he’s saying here is really the illusion of action.