A more interesting question is why Trump and defenders are in fact shying away from Whitaker’s argument. It is not clear to me that it is such a bad one. Anyone who believes that the office of the presidency operates in a sphere outside “politics,” in the sense of the word that means partisan elections, is being naïve. Of course presidents do things in the hope that they will help them to be re-elected. Ours is an exhausting news cycle full of distractions. How many of Trump’s supporters from 2016 are likely to change their minds because the leaders of a more or less insignificant republic half a world away received money they were due anyway after hearing America’s mayor rant at them about a man whose chances of winning the Democratic primary are not nearly as certain as they appeared to be several months ago?
This no doubt sounds very cynical. It is cynical — as cynical as promising that Mexico would pay for the wall or giving Michael Cohen money to shut up Stormy Daniels or giving corporations tax breaks before insisting that they scale back their operations in China and stop laying off hard-working Americans.
This is what this presidency has been like from the very beginning. Why would the end — whether it comes next year or in 2021 — be any different?