Opinion writer

The most vociferous critics of President Barack Obama’s normalization of relations with Cuba and of the Iran deal are now touting far worse diplomacy and ignoring President Trump’s outrageous praise for a brutal dictator because, well, because it is Trump.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), ardent Obama critic, coos in an interview with radio host and Post contributor Hugh Hewitt: “The Singapore summit, Hugh, was a positive step. Obviously, it’s the first step in what will be a long process in the coming months. And the proof of the pudding will be in the eating in those coming months.” Compare this with his reaction to any concession Obama made. The interview continues:

Hewitt: Are you upset by the president’s statement about military exercises, even though they’re not scheduled to occur until March or April of ’19?

Cotton: Well, Hugh, that’s an important point that you make. The main military exercise about which the Kim regime has complained for years is something called Foal Eagle, which usually happens in the spring, which means it won’t happen again until next spring. And I suspect by that point, we’ll have we’ll know whether Kim Jong Un is serious about these commitments.

Even more disingenuous was this straw-man argument:

Hewitt: To the people who are declaring, last question, Senator Cotton, that Donald Trump gave away too much with the flags and the handshake, what’s your response?

Cotton: There is a school of thought that the United States should not sit down, that the United States president should not sit down with two-bit dictators. I think there’s some validity to that school of thought with the exception once those dictators have nuclear weapons. You know, countries like Iran and Cuba and other two-bit rogue regimes don’t have nuclear weapons, yet. They can’t threaten the United States in that way. Once North Korea had nuclear weapons, once they have missiles that can deliver them to us, I would liken it to past presidents sitting down with Soviet dictators. It’s not something that we should celebrate. It’s not a pretty sight. But it’s a necessary part of the job to try to protect Americans from a terrible threat.

That’s absurd — because Cotton knows all too well that talks can be held below the presidential level. Worse, Cotton is silent on Trump’s gushing praise for Kim. It seems he has sacrificed his last ounce of credibility for the sake of staying in Trump’s good graces.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised the “historic first step” and again offered no criticism of Trump’s elevation of a brutal dictator and his personal praise for a leader who starves, imprisons and represses his people. No mention that Trump got nothing better than his predecessor (empty words) — but gave up far more in canceling military exercises and lavishing compliments on a war criminal.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was only marginally better. “While I am glad the president and Kim Jong Un were able to meet, it is difficult to determine what of concrete nature has occurred,” Corker said. “I look forward to having Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo before our committee soon to share his insights and look forward to carrying out our oversight responsibilities.” Again, no mention of the president’s rhetoric and the propaganda win for Kim. Perhaps Corker will be more forceful at the hearing. But if Obama were president, I guarantee Corker, McConnell, Cotton and others would be unsparingly harsh in their assessment.

At least Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a member of the Armed Services Committee and a military veteran, called into question suspending our joint military exercises. “I don’t think that’s wise, because we have done these exercises for years,” Ernst said. “I would just ask the president, ‘Why do we need to suspend them? They are legal.’ ” A good question.

On the Democratic side, Minority Leader Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York was restrained but at least unwilling to suspend his critical faculties as Republicans were doing:

Previous negotiations have sought the same goal with good reason, and in 1994 and 2005, those negotiations yielded agreements that were in fact much more rigorous than the communique issued by President Trump and Chairman Kim. This communique lists denuclearization as a far-off goal but includes no details about a pathway to achieving it. . . . There is a great fear now that Chairman Kim, having won a major concession from the United States – meeting with our President – may not go any further. . . .

By granting a meeting with Chairman Kim, President Trump has granted a brutal and repressive dictatorship the international legitimacy it has long craved. The symbols that were broadcast all over the world last night have lasting consequences for the United States and North Korea, and for the entire region.

Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) sounded incredulous:

As he observed, “This was a dream outcome for Kim Jong Un . . . legitimacy on the world stage, an invitation to the White House, no concessions on human rights and no clear concessions on a timeline or a process for denuclearization.” He pressed, “What’s happened in the last 24 hours that has allowed President Trump to look in his soul and conclude that Kim Jong Un is talented, capable and trustworthy?” He scoffed at Trump’s declaration that he could “trust” Kim.

In sum, whether the stakes are as small as an insult hurled at a senator or as momentous as North Korea’s nuclear threat, Republicans will not criticize Trump. They will bend over backward to issue praise, throwing away years of advocacy on their most dearly held positions.

Democrats here have an obligation and an opportunity. One party at least must confront the narcissistic, gullible president and his aides. One party must counsel against ludicrous rhetoric about someone who has committed crimes against humanity. If they want to be entrusted with majorities in Congress and eventually get back into the White House, they need to show their mettle now.

Read more:

How Trump lost the summit before the photographers even left the room

The U.S. cannot pull this off alone

A summit without substance

The biggest winner of the Trump-Kim summit is China

No more concessions