Gingrich: How about that "correction" from Trump, eh?

Even in its original form, Donald Trump’s statement to the press yesterday was more of a modified limited hangout, not a correction. Add in the backtracks today on Twitter, in which he suggested that critics were not in the “higher ends of the intelligence scale” and they would “rather go to war,” and it begins to look like even less of a reversal. Still, it was good enough for Newt Gingrich to claim mission accomplished in fixing what the former speaker earlier called “the most serious mistake” of Trump’s presidency:

Talk about setting a low bar. Trump’s statement dialed down some of the political heat, especially given how reluctant Trump usually is to backtrack at all. However, when the other default position is TREEEEEAAAASOOOOOON, it’s not difficult for a rational climbdown in any degree to have an impact. However, accusing critics of pulling for a shooting war with Russia isn’t far off the other end of the extreme spectrum.

Gingrich is on more solid ground when noting how tough the Trump administration has been on Putin in policy rather than rhetoric:

That’s a fair point, one the White House itself began pushing yesterday morning in talking points to surrogates and media. That, however, prompts the question of why Trump didn’t deliver an actual correction, rather than an implausible explanation of would/wouldn’t in a sentence that either way still left Trump questioning the conclusions of US intelligence and Republican-led congressional committees on Russia’s interference. Andy McCarthy also wondered about Trump’s reticence to fully embrace those conclusions, even in the supposed correction:

On the honesty meter, I was most dissuaded by the context of “would” in the president’s original remarks. He was making a case for why one should harbor doubts about the intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia meddled. His use of “would” (“I don’t see any reason why it would be Russia”) made perfect sense; his revisionist “wouldn’t” is discordant.

This matters because it guarantees that the story will linger longer.

Let’s say the president had come out and simply said, “I made a mistake. I should have been clear that I accept the conclusion that Russia interfered in the election. The important thing now is to make sure they know there will be a heavy price to pay if they try it again.” It would have been bad — he’d have felt humiliated while his critics crowed. But it would have been right, it would have been over faster, and it would have impressed at least some critics that Trump was playing against type. It would have inspired confidence that his advisers had gotten through to him about the seriousness of the Helsinki lapses.

Now, instead, we will have elongated coverage of why the president’s new version — I had it right all along, I just tripped on a word — is not credible.

And as McCarthy predicted elsewhere, Trump’s revision to the revision has intensified that discussion. It may never do the same kind of damage that Trump did to himself in Helsinki, because (a) that was probably as bad as it gets, and (b) his base largely won’t care. However, for those who like Gingrich viewed it as “the most serious mistake” Trump made, their trepidation about Trump’s ability to deal with Russia in the future won’t be so easily quelled.