The most frustrating aspect of the backlash against President Trump’s servility to Russian President Vladimir Putin is that nothing that happened last week in Helsinki should have surprised us.
What’s changed is that so many who insisted in 2016 that Trump was not as bad as he looked, that he was a pragmatist at heart, and that we should take him “seriously but not literally” have been forced to face the truth.
The truth is that Trump really does have what you might call a special relationship with Putin and Russia, for reasons still not fully known. He views foreign policy not as a way of protecting the nation but as an extension of his own narrow, personal interests.
He has no respect for our basic liberties, which is why he entertained turning over our country’s former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, and other Putin critics to the Russian dictator’s mercies until widespread revulsion required Trump to back off.
The focus and discipline necessary to run a government are so alien to him that most of his top lieutenants were left in the dark about what Vlad and Don were cooking up.
Thus was Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, sandbagged on Thursday. He was in the middle of a televised interview at an Aspen Institute event with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell when Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, tweeted word that Putin had been invited to visit Washington in the fall.
Coats did not try to pretend he either knew of the decision or approved of it. “That’s going to be special,” he said to laughter from the Aspen crowd. His insouciance infuriated the White House and led one senior official to tell The Washington Post that Coats had “gone rogue.” In fact, it’s the president who has “gone rogue” on the nation’s values, its traditional alliances and the integrity of our electoral system.