The Slatest

Trump Resorts to His Usual Maneuver When He Screws Up Big Time

Trump at a table pointing to papers.
President Donald Trump talks about his appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting with House Republicans in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Tuesday.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Twenty-four hours after his disastrous meeting in Helsinki, Donald Trump—the noted spokesman for world peace, harmony, and kindness, and someone who always goes out of his way to find someone’s good side—went before television cameras to explain his soft spot for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump has faced unprecedented Republican criticism—it’s a low bar—for his Finland performance, which included siding with Putin over the intelligence agencies Trump oversees. The president never likes being backed into a corner, and after a couple of defensive tweets Tuesday morning blaming the media and the investigations swirling around him for his poor reviews, it was far from clear how Trump would respond.

Actually, it was pretty clear. He would do an unconvincing, halfhearted job of pretending that he always believed Russian meddling did indeed occur. “As successful as NATO was, this was our most successful visit,” he said of meeting Putin, just to set the scene. “My meeting with President Putin was interesting in so many different ways.” But then came the inevitable. “I have full faith and support for America’s intelligence agencies. I have always felt while Russia’s actions had no impact on the outcome of the elections … I accept the intelligence community’s conclusion [that it was] Russia.” But of course, because he is Donald Trump, he added, “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there.” He then made up another ridiculous lie, making the absurd claim that he actually meant to say, at Helsinki, that he saw no reason why the interference would NOT have been from Russia. Then came his rant about Obama and some of his advisers, and some more kind words for Putin.

In short, we are smack dab in the middle of what has become a cherished ritual. It begins when Trump does something cruel or bad or stupid. It continues when people get really angry at this breach of decorum or humanity. It continues when Trump partially walks back his error, while also insulting the intelligence of Americans. And it concludes when the president and fellow Republicans forget that the whole thing happened and carry on as before. The one big takeaway from the last 24 hours is that the size of his Helsinki screw-up has sped up the first few steps of this process and, if we are lucky, will delay the last step for another couple of days.