Trump’s press conference with Putin shocked the world, as the President of the United States appeared to subordinate himself to the Russian leader. The audacity of his callowness did, however, cause most people to set aside the fact that the pair had just spent two hours alone discussing… things… without press, advisors or aides beyond trusted translators present. (CNN) Judging by the statements President Trump made in front of the camera, it is reasonable to worry about what may have been said and promised when Trump was not feeling any pressure to measure his words. The likelihood that it was even more conciliatory than the public statements is high, and it is not unreasonable to worry that Trump – who has revealed highly classified secrets to Russia before – gave valuable information to Putin. (Reuters)
The critical responses to Trump’s presser swing from calling it treasonous to simply refuting his positions, mostly depending on the side of the political aisle from which the criticisms come. The unusual condemnations (albeit of the President’s statements, not the President himself, which is telling) from usually staunch allies like Fox News hosts and Mitch McConnell come because they want to maintain power, and supporting Russia over the United States seems like a failing strategy for future elections. (Politico)
It is worth noting that Fox has not placed any serious criticism of the President’s summit on their front page, leaving only Laura Ingrahahm’s milquetoast critique of it being an “unforced error” and “missteps in verbiage” and then attempting to spin by praising “all the good” he’s done. (Fox) The best hope for the Republicans, politically, is if their base sees and hears no recordings from the press conference and only hears positive analysis from their punditry.
The Republicans want distance from this political poison and any potential bombshells to come when details of the meeting surface. Trump, however, wants some Republicans to stand by him, so that he can cement himself as the defining face of the Republicans.
Rand Paul has given Trump that gift. From Politico:
“It’s gotten so ridiculous that someone has to stand up and say we should try to engage even our adversaries and open up our lines of communication,” Paul said. “We’re going to talk to the president about some small steps in order to try to thaw the relations between our countries.”
“We have a lot of areas … we should be talking about,” Paul said of Russia. “We won’t get anywhere on it if we just say we want … to put more sanctions on them and tomorrow they’ll surrender and do what we want.”
Paul is not merely supportive, but has plans to meet with Russian leaders as well, next month. From the same Politico article:
Paul expects to get a chance to try out his brand of diplomacy himself next month when he meets with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, staff in the opposition media, and other Russian officials.
This was not an isolated incident. Paul spoke with other media venues to press his point, and retweeted them in his Twitter feed:
On #Cavuto, Senator @RandPaul said that he saw the summit between President @realDonaldTrump and Russian President Putin as "renewing engagement and renewing open lines of conversation." pic.twitter.com/GY5UqknMVL
— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 17, 2018
"If there wasn't such acute hatred for President Trump, such a 'Trump derangement syndrome' on the left…," a meeting with a Russian leader could have happened sooner says Sen. @randpaul. The blow back from the meeting, "really shows people hatred for President Trump." pic.twitter.com/ejfBwqYduz
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) July 16, 2018
Part of this is undoubtedly Paul covering for his own prior statements. He was an outspoken advocate for the summit. He has also repeatedly downplayed Russian interference by drawing an equivalency between it and American election interference – as if conducting a secret nationwide campaign to spark factional violence and promote specific candidates and polices were the same as offering poll interpretation help to a candidate or conducting routine (if morally dubious) intelligence monitoring of allies. Attacking Trump for capitulation would be dangerous for Paul’s political branding.
President Trump noticed the support, however, and happily reminded the world that the GOP supports him in his position, even as many view that position as Putin’s lackey:
Thank you @RandPaul, you really get it! “The President has gone through a year and a half of totally partisan investigations – what’s he supposed think?”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2018
It wasn’t only Trump noticing, however. Rand Paul was singled out as the only politician who was retweeted without condemnatory comments by David Duke, who was thrilled by the summit:
Bravo Trump! Bravo Russia! Bravo to all the true American Patriots who put America first and Peace and Justice first before the Zionist Deep Evil State ruling American Media and Politics. Russia has values America once had and America the values that Communist Russia had!
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) July 16, 2018
Support of people like David Duke helped President Trump win the election in 2016, in large part because it was dismissed as “fake news” by many of his supporters. Playing to that segment of his base will not help Trump in the future, nor will it enhance the long-term careers of any major American politician.