Trump blew his chance to lead in Helsinki

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Well... he sure didn’t take my advice. The president had been handed a gift from Rosenstein for a reset: a chance to embrace the investigative record assembled by Mueller. What did I say on CNN and on my radio show before that presser? No way he could ever again say “witch hunt” with a straight face.

It was mind boggling to watch - me, while on air - and without a chance to react until now. Everyone has their most stunning moment. For me, it was this exchange because of the way the president let Putin off the hook:

QUESTION: For President Putin, if I could follow up as well, why should Americans and why should President Trump believe your statement that Russia did not intervene in the 2016 election, given the evidence that U.S. intelligence agencies have provided?

And will you consider extraditing the 12 Russian officials that were indicted last week by a U.S. grand jury?

TRUMP: Well, I'm going to let the president answer the second part of that question.

But, as you know, the whole concept of that came up perhaps a little bit before, but it came out as a reason why the Democrats lost an election which, frankly, they should have been able to win, because the Electoral College is much more advantageous for Democrats, as you know, than it is to Republicans.

We won the Electoral College by a lot: 306 to 223, I believe. And that was a well-fought -- that was a well-fought battle. We did a great job.

And, frankly -- I'm going to let the president speak to the second part of your question -- but just to say it one time again -- and I say it all the time -- there was no collusion. I didn't know the president. There was nobody to collude with. There was no collusion with the campaign.

The condemnation is nearly universal. For the first time in this administration, you have prominent Republicans calling out the president. I keep thinking about those who excoriated Obama for a so-called “apology tour”. What do they say about this? It was a FOX personality who was the most appropriate with Putin…Chris Wallace! He was as firm and direct as the president should have been.

My question is why? What explains it? What is the reason for what Governor Schwarzenegger called the “wet noodle response” from our president?

We have his explanation from Sunday:

As president, I cannot make decisions on foreign policy in a futile effort to appease partisan critics, or the media, or Democrats who want to do nothing but resist and obstruct.

Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia affords the opportunity to open new pathways toward peace and stability in our world. I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than to risk peace in pursuit of politics. As president, I will always put (sic) what is best for America and what is best for the American people.

Monday, a caller from North Dakota told me, before the presser with Trump and Putin, that I had come down with Trump derangement syndrome when I called the Russian meddling “an act of terror.” We chatted- I said said he sounded like Carter Page (which I meant in sincerity), who has long believed it is in our best economic and security interest to be closer to Russia.

Maybe Trump is of that mindset - benign. Pat Buchanan gives him that credit Tuesday in a column:

In a tweet prior to the meeting, Trump indicted the elites of both parties: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”

Trump thereby repudiated the records and agendas of the neocons and their liberal interventionist allies, as well as the archipelago of War Party think tanks beavering away inside the Beltway.

Looking back over the week, from Brussels to Britain to Helsinki, Trump’s message has been clear, consistent and startling.

NATO is obsolete. European allies have freeloaded off U.S. defense while rolling up huge trade surpluses at our expense. Those days are over. Europeans are going to stop stealing our markets and start paying for their own defense.

Jonah Goldberg has a different theory:

These theories can’t be wholly dismissed, even if some overheated versions get way ahead of the available facts. But their real shortcoming is that they are less plausible than the Aesopian explanation: This is who Trump is. Even if Russia hadn’t meddled in the election at all, Trump would still admire Putin because Trump admires men like Putin — which is why he’s praised numerous other dictators and strongmen.

The president’s steadfast commitment to a number of policies — animosity toward NATO, infatuation with protectionism, an Obama-esque obsession with eliminating nuclear weapons, and his determination that a “good relationship” with Russia should be a policy goal rather than a means to one — may have some ideological underpinning. (These policies all seem to be rooted in intellectual fads of the 1980s.)

But Trump’s stubborn refusal to listen to his own advisors in the matter of the Russia investigation likely stems from his inability to admit that his instincts are ever wrong. As always, Trump’s character trumps all.

Or there is the more sinister explanation: maybe it's because Putin has something on him? Kompromat? A business deal in the past or future? Maybe the gratitude of a president who knows he did not win cleanly?

Another question on my mind: will any minds change? Will national security again be a unifier, something that makes us forget our partisan differences?

538 Tuesday:

The moral of the story? As ever, don’t underestimate the intractability of people who have dug into their partisan trenches. In the three aforementioned polls, Democrats almost uniformly believed that Russia either interfered in the election or that Russian interference was a serious matter, while Republicans were more divided. A potential explanation is easy enough to find: Even though Trump has softened his stance this year, he previously repeatedly suggested that Russia had not attempted to influence the election. That and his denigration of the Mueller investigation may contribute to Republicans’ skepticism of Russian involvement.

I wonder if that is about to change.

One more thought: I’m sure they have television in Mueller’s office.  Rosenstein’s too. That could not have gone over well, especially when Trump said:

TRUMP: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server -- haven't they taken the server. Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee?

I've been wondering that, I've been asking that for months and months and I've been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying?

With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it's not Russia.

I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server.

Only time will tell.