President Donald Trump has turned the Republican Party into what Jeane J. Kirkpatrick once contemptuously branded the Democrats: “the blame America first crowd.”
Even by the upside-down standards of 2018, the sight of a U.S. president standing alongside a Russian one and attacking an investigation by this country’s Justice Department was disgraceful.
Just three days after a grand jury in Washington indicted 12 Russian intelligence officials and charged them with attempting to subvert the 2016 U.S. election, Trump said “we’re all to blame” but found specific fault only with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. “The probe is a disaster for our country,” he declared. “It’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe.”
Equally stunning was that Trump did not challenge what he said were Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful” denials of his government’s attack on this country’s democratic processes. Instead, he suggested that there is something fishy about the Democratic National Committee servers that were hacked.
He even sold out his own top intelligence officials. “My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, some others, they said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said. “I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Shortly before his meeting with Putin, Trump had given a prelude to all of this, revealing his mindset, as he often does, with a tweet:
“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”
Not surprisingly, those words delighted Russia’s foreign ministry, which retweeted Trump with the comment, “We agree.”
Set aside the fact that Trump’s tweet showed an astonishing ignorance of the history of U.S.-Russia relations. It also marked a rejection of what the Republican Party has stood for, going at least as far back as Jeane Kirkpatrick’s electrifying 1984 Republican National Convention speech.
“The American people know that it’s dangerous to blame ourselves for terrible problems that we did not cause,” she said. “They understand just as the distinguished French writer, Jean Francois Revel, understands the dangers of endless self-criticism and self-denigration. He wrote: ‘Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.’ With the election of Ronald Reagan, the American people declared to the world that we have the necessary energy and conviction to defend ourselves.”
Again and again since then, Republicans have claimed that Democratic presidents — first Bill Clinton, then Barack Obama — have humiliated this country by going on what they called “apology tours” around the world. Theirs, they insisted, was the party that stood for American exceptionalism. The 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney declared: “I will never, ever apologize for America.”
This was not the first time we had seen Trump’s blame-America-first impulse kick in where Putin is concerned. When then-Fox News host Bill O’Reilly referred to Putin as “a killer” in a February 2017 interview, the newly inaugurated president shot back: “There are a lot of killers. … You think our country’s so innocent?”
But now, Trump’s capitulation is all but complete, Republican leaders stand in near silence as a president of their own party trashes yet another principle they once claimed to cherish. Pretty soon, they will have no bedrock at all. And then, they will end up standing for nothing at all.
Nothing, that is, but Trump.
Karen Tumulty is a Washington Post columnist covering national politics.
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