“Why doesn’t the president get tough with Putin about what everyone seems to agree is clear, meddling in 2016 and the threat of meddling in 2020?” Fox News’s Chris Wallace asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday, referring to the most recent friendly phone call President Trump had with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Pompeo came up with a creative dodge, suggesting that maybe they just ran out of time: “Sometimes conversations just aren’t long enough to cover every issue that might be brought up.”
In fact, Trump and Putin talked for more than an hour. But let’s stop kidding around. We know why Trump has not issued any warnings to Putin about our next election. It’s because Trump plainly wants and expects that just as the Kremlin worked to get him elected in 2016, it will work to get him reelected in 2020.
Consider how simple this question ought to be: Is it wrong to accept the assistance of a hostile foreign power to get elected president? A few years ago, any politician in either party would have responded, “Of course it’s wrong. Are you crazy? What a stupid question.” The very idea that anyone could assert otherwise would have been considered ludicrous.
But the Republican Party is now led by Trump. So being a loyal Republican means you have to take out your moral compass, smash it on the floor and throw the broken pieces into a fire.
Let’s not forget that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report concluded that though there was not a coordinated conspiracy, the Trump campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”
Since both of those conclusions are now beyond dispute, all Republicans are called upon to say that neither one is anything to worry about. And if it was fine for it to have happened in 2016, it must be fine for it to happen again in 2020.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, insists that “there’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians,” even if you’re told in advance that the Russian government is ready to pass dirt on your opponent. A candidate himself can go before television cameras and implore a hostile foreign power to hack into his opponent’s email in the hope that damaging information will be found there, and when within hours it complies with his request, it’s all good.
Just try to imagine that next summer, the Democratic nominee for president stands up at a rally and says, “China, if you’re listening, you should hack into the White House email system,” making clear that she’ll be happy to exploit whatever they find there to aid in her campaign. According to Republican logic, that would be perfectly within the bounds of acceptable campaign behavior.
That’s not going to happen, of course, because Democrats aren’t inclined to do that sort of thing in the first place, and they’re making explicit promises not to use any hacked documents at all in their campaigns.
But Republicans keep getting asked whether there will be a similar promise made by the Trump campaign, and they dodge the question. Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, was asked recently whether Trump would accept Russian help in 2020, and played dumb. “Accept Russian help?” Gidley said. “I don’t understand the question.”
We all know why: The real answer is that if and when the Kremlin comes to Trump’s aid in 2020, he’ll welcome their help.
Other Republicans dance around the issue a bit, but still won’t say he shouldn’t, let alone that he won’t. On Sunday, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) was asked whether Giuliani is wrong that it’s fine to take campaign assistance from a hostile foreign power. “I don’t know whether he’s wrong or right,” Kennedy said, but when pressed did allow that he personally wouldn’t accept Russian help.
Then Kennedy tried to claim that it’s hard for any campaign to know what it is being offered. “They’re not morons. They’re not jelly heads. They’re not going to walk in and say, ‘Hi, I’m from Russia. I’ve got some information for you.’” Which is of course exactly what Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were told.
Like his father, Donald Trump Jr. will escape prosecution over the Russia scandal. To the Trumps, that’s proof that they can do it all again. And even as intelligence agencies warn that Russian attacks on our election system are an ongoing threat, the president himself is unconcerned. Asked whether he told Putin not to meddle in the 2020 election, he replied, “We didn’t discuss that.”
And why would they? They both know the score. What actually happened — the Kremlin working to help Trump win the election — is almost certain to happen again in 2020. Trump doesn’t mind, and he won’t object. In fact, he’s counting on it.