11 Lessons From Russia Week

From the Weekly Standard:

The pace has been dizzying. With all the walk backs, reversals, dropped contractions, and various obfuscations: Russia week has been Peak Trump. Herewith some quick takeaways.

(1) “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter,” Mark Twain once observed, “tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.” But Twain could hardly have guessed that international relations would one day turn on the difference between “would” and “wouldn’t.”

(2) You simply cannot underestimate the credulity of some elements of the electorate. Case in point: anyone who accepted Trump’s explanation that when he said he didn’t know why Russia would hack our elections, he really meant he didn’t know why they wouldn’t. The episode once again called to mind H. L. Mencken’s observation. “No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” Trump continues to count on it.

But the corollary to Mencken is the maxim that you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time—but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

As post-Helsinki poll numbers roll out over the next few days, Trump will test that proposition, too.

(3) Donald Trump has a hard time distinguishing friends from foes. He simply can’t get beyond the tension he feels between his (a) cramped transactionalism when it comes our alliances, and (b) glandular fascination with autocratic strong men. The result is that our allies no longer trust us and our enemies no longer fear us.

(4) Trump is a truly awful negotiator. Let’s concede for the moment that at one point in his career Trump may have cut some dazzling real estate deals. But the author of The Art of the Deal—a book he did not, of course actually write—has shown no evidence that those skills translate to the presidency, much less to the realm of international diplomacy. Last month Trump was played by Kim Jong-un, this week, he was reduced to a sycophantic cats-paw by Vladimir Putin.


(5) The decision to meet with Putin alone, without aides, wasn’t merely reckless—it was bark-out-loud stupid. No one knows what Trump said or agreed to, but the Russians will be able to spin it any way they want.

(6) Donald Trump is constitutionally incapable of fully grasping the scope and danger of the Russian attempts to subvert our electoral system because he thinks it undermines his legitimacy. No amount of talking points and clarifications will shake that core refusal to confront the Russian threat.

(7) Even Newt Gingrich has his limits, calling Trump’s comment in Helsinki, “the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—-immediately.”

(8) That said, Trump remains the Fox News president. The whole world was horrified and outraged by his obsequiousness, but it was only when he heard criticism on Fox that he decided he needed to “clarify” what he really meant.

(9) Trump does not like walk-backs and clarifications. When he gets forced into to changing direction, his pattern is outrage, followed by faux clarification, followed by doubling down on the original line. See the Access Hollywood tape, Charlottesville, etc.

(10) Congressional Republicans could take concrete actions to rebuke Trump or limit the damage he can cause. They won’t. There will be no straw that breaks the camel’s back for elected Republican officials.

(11) I know we started by saying this is “Peak Trump,” but Trump is inviting Putin to come to Washington. So, yes, this can get worse.