“We use the word ‘collusion’ very loosely all the time,” President Trump said Tuesday. It was meant as a complaint. The president has said there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia more than 200 times, after all. It’s not his favorite narrative.
But when it comes to alleging collusion, nobody’s lips are looser than Trump’s. He has now accused Democrats and the media of at least 10 different strains of collusion, including three times in the past nine days. And he almost always does it with far less evidence than we’ve seen in the Russia investigation.
Right after lodging this complaint Tuesday, Trump proceeded to accuse social media companies of colluding with one another to censor conservatives. His evidence? “Because something has to be going on.” It happened this past weekend, too, when he said there “must be Collusion with the Democrats” by late-night comedy shows like “Saturday Night Live” because they all attack him so much. (He even suggested the Federal Communications Commission investigate.) And earlier this month, Trump retweeted an allegation that Michael Cohen colluded with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) over his testimony.
All of these are highly circumstantial, at best. A whole bunch of social media companies are doing the same thing, so they must be colluding! A whole bunch of comedy shows are laughing at Trump, so that must be collusion, too! And if Cohen talked to the chairman about his testimony, what else could it be?
And you don’t have to look far for other examples of Trump alleging all manner of collusion based on flimsy evidence. Here are some examples (with the alleged colluders in bold):
- April 25, 2016: Ted Cruz and John Kasich engaged in “illegal collusion” for trying to avoid splitting votes in key GOP primaries. “You know, in business, you get put in jail [for that]," Trump said.
- October-November 2016 (multiple accusations): “The documents show the Clinton Campaign colluding with the State Department and Justice Department over the investigation into Hillary’s illegal email server that put your family and your country in danger.”
- Oct. 22, 2016: “The system is also rigged by the media. WikiLeaks shows the media colluding and conspiring directly with the Clinton campaign. Emails even show that Clintons boasting gleefully about very friendly and malleable reporters who shower the Clintons with praise.”
- June 25, 2017: “Hillary Clinton colluded with the Democratic Party in order to beat Crazy Bernie Sanders. Is she allowed to so collude? Unfair to Bernie!”
- Aug. 10, 2017: “Additionally, it seems that Russia spent a lot of money on that false [Steele Dossier], and that was Russian money, and I think it was Democrat money, too. You could say that was collusion. Plus, the Democrats colluded on the Ukraine. So they colluded.”
- Oct. 8, 2018 (among others): “Everybody understands there was no collusion. There’s no Russia — it was all made up by the Democrats. They’re the ones that colluded with Russia. The Democrats colluded with Russia.”
- Aug. 8 2018: “Hillary Clinton and her team 100% colluded with the Russians, and so did Adam Schiff who is on tape trying to collude with what he thought was Russians to obtain compromising material on DJT.”
This is all straight out of Trump’s playbook. Call it his “I Know You Are But What Am I” strategy or his “I Am Rubber and You Are Glue” strategy. To mitigate the things he’s most sensitive about, he will simply accuse someone else of exactly the same thing. The most recent example is how he accused Barack Obama of hiding his grades in 2011 even as he was apparently trying hard to hide his own.
But as with many other things — like accusing others of treason — he’s setting one standard for himself and quite a different standard for his opponents. If we’re allowed to allege collusion based upon a bunch of people doing similar things, that’s a very low bar. If the Clinton campaign believing certain reporters are friendlier than others is proof of collusion, what then is members of Trump’s campaign actually meeting with Russians and talking about the campaign? What is Trump actively asking Russia to do something that could help his campaign, like find Clinton’s emails? You can see how a lowering of the bar for what constitutes “collusion” wouldn’t seem particularly helpful for Trump.
Trump should probably not complain about other people using “the word collusion very ‘loosely’ all the time."