Trump’s Pathetic Performance Masks a Deeper Betrayal.

A lone Republican resigned this week after Donald Trump's servile performance in Helsinki, where Vladimir Putin smirked his way through a remarkable press conference that laid bare the American president's obvious fealty to the Russian autocrat. Who was this brave Republican who spoke up and left his party? No, it wasn't Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, whose team Trump had just belittled on the international stage. No, it wasn't Jon Huntsman, Trump's ambassador to Russia, who once ran for president himself on the notion that he was a maverick truth-teller. And no, despite his furrowed brow, it wasn't John Kelly, Trump's ever-humiliated chief of staff.

It was . . . wait for it! . . . Chris Gagin, the chairman of the Belmont County Republican Party in southeast Ohio. Haven't heard of him? Don't worry, most national political reporters hadn't either, until Gagin wrote on Twitter that he was stepping down from his provincial post on Monday as "a matter of conscience" following the Putin spectacle. His tweet was nonetheless passed around by reporters and lefties on Twitter as evidence that Republicans do, in fact, have the power to call out Trump for the damage he is unleashing on our democracy. But while Gagin's decision is admirable—Trump won a smashing 68 percent of the vote in Belmont County—he is still just a local-party activist. The stakes are small. What his resignation demonstrated, more than anything else, was how the much more powerful leadership class of the Republican Party remains, as ever, unwilling to challenge Trump even as it becomes clear that the president is, himself, a national-security crisis.Is the president compromised, either by a pee tape or by shady Russian money? We may never know, but we saw on Monday that Trump, for some reason, is willing to genuflect before Putin even if it means eroding the power of the United States, our values, and our intelligence community in full view of the entire world. Putin meddled in our presidential election, sends warplanes to buzz U.S. airspace near Alaska, and held a press conference in March bragging about Russia's ability to reach the United States mainland with ballistic missiles. In response to all that, in one of the biggest moments of his presidency, Trump chose to kiss Putin's ass. When Hugh Grant's character in Love Actually is better at standing up to tough guys than you are, chances are you're the cuck. Turns out it's easier to behave like an alpha when you're tweeting at Maxine Waters from the safety of your own bedroom.How have Republicans responded to Helsinki? Most sided with the intelligence community, ratifying their belief that Russia did indeed meddle in the 2016 election but, as usual, stopped short of criticizing Trump personally. Some, like Lindsey Graham, went a step further, urging Trump to "be tough on Putin." John McCain, ailing in Arizona, issued the harshest words of all, calling the press conference "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory." He continued: "The damage inflicted by President Trump's naïveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake."McCain's contempt for Putin is known to burn white hot, but what's important about his post-Helsinki statement is that it's precisely what every one of his Republican Senate colleagues believes. They just refuse to say it out loud, for reasons that have been chewed over ad nauseam ever since Trump took office. The Republican base, motivated by cultural issues and grievance politics, holds Trump in far higher esteem than any elected official hailing from politer wings of the G.O.P. The conservative media has similarly contorted itself to defend Trump at every turn, even against criticism from Republicans. In this environment, there is no political room for a Republican to criticize Trump without being torn apart by the MAGA wolves.The Republican script is going exactly as planned after Helsinki, as it always has, just as it did after Trump accused President Obama of wiretapping him, just as it did after the "fine people" Nazis marched on Charlottesville, just as it has after every Trump controversy big and small.First, we see paper statements from Republican leaders expressing some kind of tepid criticism or sorrow. Then, when Republicans are pressed in person by reporters about Trump, they dodge the question or "have nothing to add." Behind the scenes, there is some cleanup underway by horrified administration staffers or Republicans on Capitol Hill back-channeling to the White House, urging them to do something to "fix" whatever was said or tweeted. Then Trump says something—as he did Tuesday, claiming he misspoke about Russian attempts to interfere in our elections while reading off a piece of paper like a child in after-school detention—that gives Republicans a little more air cover. And then you conclude with a remark like Marco Rubio's on Tuesday. "I'm just glad he clarified it," Rubio told NBC News when asked about Trump's day-after remarks. "I can't read his intentions or what he meant to say at the time, and suffice it to say that for me as a policy maker, what really matters is what we do moving forward."In the coming days, you will see Republican attempts to steer the conversation back to the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, far friendlier turf than the awful reality of a president who is willing to subvert Western order just to make nice with his favorite shirtless K.G.B. judo master. You will see conservatives online and on cable news pivot, too, by latching onto some example of liberal overreach, moronic political correctness, or media mistake to fuel the "own the libs" whataboutism that motivates the Republican base.Rubio was speaking his truth on Tuesday. Republicans are just here to keep their heads down and deliver on "what really matters." Forget that stuff Trump said back there. What really matters are conservative solutions for the American people, you see, even if there's a madman in the cockpit flying the plane into a mountain.This is not to say Republicans shouldn't vote for conservative judges, or tax cuts, or regulatory rollbacks. They are Republicans, and Republicans control the government. They should vote for those things, and the left is silly to pretend they shouldn't. But Hillary Clinton faced three years of Republican-held hearings over Benghazi, and now the same Republican-controlled Congress stands by, mostly mute, as Trump slowly grinds away at our institutions and diplomatic norms, our treaties, our discourse, our free press, our justice system, and even our federal law-enforcement agencies? O.K

Instead of looking into Trump's refusal to release his tax returns, instead of even just saying what's actually on their minds, we are left with privately aggrieved Republican members whispering their discomfort to Politico Playbook, but only on background. In Tuesday's edition: "There was a general consensus in the Capitol yesterday: President Donald Trump thoroughly embarrassed the United States standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the world's biggest stage." The next paragraph of Playbook, however, revealed exactly where Republicans stand: "But, privately, senior-level Republican aides and lawmakers had a second message: what the hell do you want us to do?"So, despite the fury from unburdened Republicans like McCain and retiring Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, the real power centers of the party, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan chief among them, are standing firmly behind Trump, even if they are privately mortified and maybe even wondering if Trump is indeed compromised. They'll happily take a flawed, comprised, insecure president in exchange for their preferred policy outcomes—no matter the long-term damage to American institutions and our standing in the world. We may one day look back at their silence and see it as its own kind of national betrayal.

Peter Hamby is the host of Snapchat's Good Luck America. He wrote this in Vanity Fair, July 17, 2018.


Post Script.This is my second post today by a writer explaining that #RussiaGate is owned by the GOP. The solution is now in your hands. Support Democratic candidates. Vote. Register people to vote. We can stop them. #TraitorTrump #GOPRussiaGate #Midterms2016 #BlueWave2018

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