Tuesday, July 11, 2017
“Disastrous” was Senator Lindsey Graham’s(R-SC) description on Meet the Press this past Sunday of President Trump’s recent meeting with Russian President Vladmir Putin. I don’t know if I would go quite that far, but taken together, President Trump’s ill-advised answers to media questions the day before, the meeting itself, and his series of contradictory and foolish tweets the day after only worsened his mounting Russia problems. More importantly, it further emboldened Putin to continue his reckless interference in elections in the United States and around the world.
Graham went on to aptly summarize the consequences of Trump’s continuing to raise doubts where none truly exist about whether or not Russia meddled in the 2016 Presidential election : “The more (Trump) he talks about not being sure, the more he throws our intelligence community under the bus, the more he’s willing to forgive and forget, the more suspicion.”
Our intelligence community and everyone besides Trump, including his own national security team and senior Republican members of Congress who have looked at the intelligence, is certain that through hacking the DNC, orchestrating the release of the hacked emails, and a comprehensive effort to spread misinformation about Hillary Clinton through social media, Russia aggressively meddled in the 2016 Presidential election. Even more disturbing, the Russians attempted to penetrate state voter data bases.
This is what makes Trump’s repeated attempts to cast doubt so highly damaging to his credibility. The fact that he did so once again the day before he met with Putin when answering questions in a joint-presser with the Polish President was especially confounding and counter-productive. While on foreign soil, Trump attacked his own intelligence agencies, pointing out they were wrong about weapons of destruction in Iraq 15 years ago, and asserting that meant they could be wrong about Russian meddling now. This further limited any leverage he may have had left to credibly confront Putin on the hacking issue. Then after bringing Russian interference up in the meeting, he was ambiguous in tweets afterwards as to whether he believed Putin’s predictable denials. Also, before withdrawing the idea due to nearly universal ridicule, President Trump, Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin, actually tried to sell a joint Russian-United States cyber-security effort as a tangible accomplishment stemming from the meeting.
Most telling was President Trump and Secretary Tillerson’s failed efforts to convince people that now that Trump had brought the subject up with Putin, it was time to move on to what in their view are clearly more important topics. Putin must be made to pay a price for his direct attack on our democracy in order to deter him from continuing to do so. That is not just my view; that is the view of an overwhelming majority of Americans and most Republican members of Congress. After all, tough new sanctions on Russia just passed the Senate nearly unanimously. By their naked attempt to dispose of the issue, Trump and Tillerson wiped away any credit Trump would have gotten for actually bringing Russian interference up directly with Putin.
Seemingly viewing any conversation about Russian interference in our elections as detracting from the impressiveness of his 2016 win, Trump’ ego continues to override good sense and sound political strategy, and that is before we even get to the best interests of our nation. In Europe this past weekend, he made the bad situation he has created for himself, even worse.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.