On Thursday, Trump was given a second chance to say that his request to China was a joke. Again, he spurned the opportunity. A reporter asked him, “Were you joking when you asked China to investigate the Bidens?” “China has to do whatever they want,” Trump replied without any change of expression. “If China wants to look into something, I think that’s great. And if they don’t want to, I think that’s great too.” On Friday, Trump again suggested that China should look into the family. “China can do whatever they want,” the president told reporters, “with respect to one and a half billion dollars” that was supposedly (but not actually) entrusted to Biden’s son.
Trump sometimes pretends, after the fact, that he was joking. That’s what he did in 2018, when special counsel Robert Mueller asked about the July 2016 press conference in which Trump invited Russia to hack Clinton’s emails. Trump told Mueller that video of the press conference showed his request was “in jest.” But Russian operatives, watching the video, concluded that it wasn’t. “Within five hours of Trump’s remark,” says Mueller’s report, “a Russian intelligence service began targeting email accounts associated with Hillary Clinton for possible hacks.”
It’s true that Trump thinks all of this is fun. He loves the idea of foreign countries targeting his opponents. He thinks beating up reporters is hilarious. But that doesn’t mean he’s joking. It just means he’s twisted. And Republicans like Rubio, who shrug off the president’s outbursts, aren’t more clever or sophisticated than the rest of us. They’re just cowards.