Last week, we predicted that Putin would manhandle Trump in the Helsinki summit. It was so, so much worse than we ever imagined. The good news? One of Trump’s own called him on it. Steve thinks Trump's base had to take note.
Long time readers of BTRTN have observed that even in our most morose and gloomy assessments of the state of our union, we nonetheless risk eyestrain searching for the crocuses that signal the arrival of a new spring of hope and promise. And as grim and unfathomable as the appeasement at Helsinki proved to be, this may be a moment in which the darkest hour is right before the dawn. A cliché perhaps, but the funny thing about clichés is that they tend to rest on a kernel of truth.
Indeed, comparisons between Helsinki and Neville Chamberlain’s “appeasement at Munich” with Adolf Hitler may be doing a disservice to the naïve and weak British Prime Minister. Chamberlain, aware of the utter unpreparedness of Britain’s military, believed that he had negotiated “peace for our time.” Donald Trump, on the other hand, had been comprehensively briefed on the fact that Vladimir Putin had already invaded the sovereign cyberspace of the United States of America and was fully intent on doing so again, and yet he publicly betrayed the meticulously researched and proven positions of his military and intelligence command in announcing that he fully accepted Vladimir Putin’s assurance that no such hostile actions had been committed.
Outcry on the progressive side was universal, absolute, and even appeared to break fresh ground, as former CIA Director John Brennan unequivocally branded Trump’s remarks in the Helsinki press conference as “treasonous.” However, lest we think that this is the first time the word “treason” has entered the national dialog, we are reminded that Donald Trump accused Democrats in Congress of treason for failing to applaud during his State of the Union address.
But let’s be clear: the proverbial four million leftist-leaning monkeys on four million typewriters would actually produce the entire works of Shakespeare sooner than they could author the words that persuade hard-core Trumpledites that dear leader is flawed. If anything, John Brennan merely provided fresh video meat for Sean Hannity to serve up as "evidence" of a massive mainstream-media and deep state conspiracy to execute a coup. For Obama’s CIA head to accuse Trump of treason actually helps Trump with his base.
Then there was John McCain’s twenty-one gun “Fail to the Chief” military salute, which opened by noting that “Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” But McCain was just warming up: “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivete, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate.” Clearly hitting his groove in paragraph four, McCain’s eloquence peaked: “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”
Sadly, however, John McCain had long since made one last sacrifice for his country: his stature and credibility in his own party. By clinging to shards of integrity and principle – particularly in his midnight vote that doomed the Republican ObamaCare replacement bill – McCain is loathed by Trump’s base. The man who was tortured as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam and who was the party’s nominee for President just ten years ago has been tarred as a traitor to the Trump cause, and his rage at his own party is largely dismissed. Apparently speaking for the base, former Trump White House staffer Kelly Sadler summarized the party’s take on McCain: “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.” Hey, Trump… remember when you said that you didn’t think much of McCain because he had been taken prisoner? You never were able to take this authentic American hero prisoner.
All that said, the fact is that Trump’s standing among his own base will never be threatened by Democrats or centrist Republicans. It can only be eroded when someone inside the cult decides that the Kool-Aid tastes funny.
It has to be an inside job.
But there’s a layer of nuance further. The Republicans who have taken on Trump to date had either already dropped out or came to pay dearly. Senators Flake and Corker have been emboldened to take on Trump because they are no longer seeking re-election. House Speaker Paul Ryan threw in the towel and gave up rather than continue to carry the water for Trump. The most senior of Trump’s advisors -- officials like Rex (“Trump is a moron”) Tillerson and campaign guru Steve Bannon were tossed out like yesterday’s garbage after public displays of disrespect. The aforementioned Senator McCain has been excommunicated from Republican circles. We have yet to witness a true Trump loyalist take Trump on directly and not suffer for perceived insubordination.
If that happens, it could open the doors for other Republicans to see if they, too, can take Trump on without facing political ruin. That could create the run at the bank. That could change the game.
Meet Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. He may be the guy who has unlocked that magic door.
It was Dan Coats who stood up immediately in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and said, in essence, “the President of the United States is wrong.” And he is still standing. Sure, Trump tried to embarrass him by tweeting the White House announcement of a second Putin meeting to be held in D.C. while Coats was on a live tv interview, but Coats didn’t join Trump in that particular sandbox.
There’s a clear pattern now. There are people that Trump is afraid to go to war with. People who Trump knows are not the least bit afraid of him. Quite the opposite: these are people who terrify Trump. These are the people who never get degrading nicknames. People who Trump can’t buy, can’t smear, can’t kill, and can’t beat. It’s a very short list, with the names Mueller and Putin on top. And now you can add Coates to the list.
The difference is that Dan Coats is one of Trump’s own. He is of the base, from the base, and by the base. That’s what’s new.
Under the theory that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Coats’ Monday tweet has gotten him all but canonized by the liberal media, but twenty minutes on Google and Wikipedia will tell you that this guy’s resume is basically Mike Pence minus only the obsequiousness.
Dan Coats was twice elected to the U.S. Senate from the great state of Indiana, home to the VP, and also our national petri dish for homophobic legislation passed under the gay-dar cloaking title of “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
Coats gained significant visibility as one of the most ardent opponents to allowing LBGT persons to serve in the military. He opposes same-sex marriage. A sort of pre-Trump, Coats actually once brazenly accused Bill Clinton of ordering missiles strikes for the sole purpose of diverting attention from the Lewinski scandal. While serving as the U.S. Ambassador, Coats “applied pressure” to the German government to support Bush’s war in Iraq. Best of all, Dan Coats championed the nomination of woefully unqualified Bush Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. Wikipedia actually including this astonishing Dan Coats quote on CNN in full: “If being a great intellectual powerhouse is a qualification to be a member of the court and represent the American people and the wishes of the American people and to interpret the Constitution, then I think we have a court so skewed on the intellectual side that we may not be getting representation of America as a whole.” No wonder Coats is a long-standing member of Trump’s team: it has allowed him to realize his ambition of a government comprised of the same percentage of idiots as is found in the U.S. population at large.
Between his jobs in the government, Coats was a highly-paid lobbyist for the firm of King & Spalding, where he lobbied on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry. Hey, we can’t begrudge another Republican who trades on his government service to make big bucks, but can progressives please stop holding this guy up as some latter day Archibald Cox?
Deep down, Dan Coats is the kind of narrow-minded, omni-phobic slanderer of liberals that Trump’s base counts as one of their own. Dan Coats was not one of the sixteen midgets who said vicious things about Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, only to morph into toadies when vanquished. Coats did not come from Exxon Mobil and label Trump a moron. He did not get himself on the cover of Time Magazine in an attempt to usurp credit for victory from Trump. He is not Corker, Flake, McCain, or anybody named Bush. Dan Coats has held an extremely senior position in the White House from Day One without a whiff of confrontation or controversy. Dan Coats has weapons-grade conservative bona fides and no axe to grind.
But that, indeed, is the point. That’s the good news.
Dan Coats calling bullshit on Donald Trump is unlike anyone in Trump’s parade of "lying" villains -- everyone from the lame-stream liberal media, the "stupid" Obama administration, the biased deep-state intelligence agencies, the Republican-establishment, or Beltway insiders.
The base is now hearing it from one of their own.
If Dan Coats can tell the world that Donald Trump is definitively and unequivocally wrong in his denial of Russian election tampering, and do so without getting fired, then Trump’s base is confronted with shock-and-awe dissonance.
One of our own guys – Coats -- just dissed Trump, and Trump is taking it. Huh?
That Coats guy said that Trump handled the Putin meeting badly. That’s not what Sean Hannity told us.
That Coats guy is saying something completely different from Trump… and is not getting fired.
It gets still more complicated for Trump’s base as other voices in the Trump ecosystem join in.
Chris Wallace of Fox News interviewed Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, and it was an astounding, brilliant, and fearless confrontation. Wallace challenged Putin on all the points that the President of the United States should have. Wallace presented Putin with Mueller’s actual indictment of twelve senior Russian intelligent officers. Chris Wallace actually asked Vladimir Putin why so many of his political enemies end up dead or close to it. This time it was pretty easy to see into Vlad’s soul: the whole time Putin was thinking that Chris Wallace is just the kind of guy that the Russian government kills.
When it is Fox News who is waving Mueller’s indictment in Vladimir Putin’s face, you know that Donald Trump is going to have a hard time blowing that off as fake news. When it is Fox News calling Putin a ruthless, murderous tyrant to his face within hours of Donald Trump’s fawning public bromance, Trump's base has to feel the vertigo.
All of which brings us to that “incredible” offer that Vladimir Putin made to Donald Trump. Here, we must all acknowledge that Donald Trump has spoken the truth: It is absolutely incredible that Vladimir Putin was able to effortlessly exert mind control over his weak-minded adversary, sending Trump out in front of reporters to endorse Vlad’s proposal that the United States hand over former ambassadors that the Russians accuse, without basis, of being criminals.
Here, even our utterly dysfunctional and hopelessly partisan Senate finally found the issue that brings together Republicans and Democrats, as Senators united to warn Trump against handing Ambassador Michael McFaul to the Russians for interrogation.
The vote was 98 to 0.
Every Republican Senator who cast a ballot voted against Donald Trump.
When support for Donald Trump begins to crumble, it won’t be because of liberal blog posts like this one. It won’t be because of the brilliant journalism in The New York Times. It won’t be because of the razor sharp attacks from Elizabeth Warren. It won’t be because of measured condemnation from Barack Obama. It won’t be because the Republican Old Guard rises feebly in an octogenarian chorus of “I told you so.”
It will be an inside job.
It will be when influential voices within Trump’s base begin to stray.
It will be when those challenging voices cannot be silenced, intimidated, humiliated or fired into submission.
It will be when those voices, unintimidated by their President, give courage to others to join in.
Perhaps Dan Coats and Chris Wallace gave every voting Republican in the Senate the shot of courage they needed to finally do the right thing.
Maybe, just maybe, these are the lights at the end of the tunnel.
The funny thing about clichés is that they always rest on a kernel of truth.
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