It wasn't so much Trump's juvenile performance in Helsinki or the harsh rejection from Democrats and Republicans in Congress. No, it was how quickly Republican opposition switched back to again support an unhinged president who betrayed his country when the "base" didn't budge. Hey, that's how even decent people can become Nazis.
In the immediate aftermath of Helsinki experts weighed in on two issues: how disastrous it was and the seismic wave that would now sweep over Congress.
It was said that Trump, wittingly and unwittingly, betrayed his oath of office. He made the summit about himself. As for the aftermath it argued that Putin left Helsinki disappointed, realizing all he had gotten was a complete idiot not what he hoped for, a useful idiot.
Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Moscow Center wrote this:
In his July 19 address at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Putin warned that members of the U.S. establishment “are not miserable or wretched people. No, they are powerful and strong people who can shove … unbelievable and illogical stories in the face of millions of their citizens. Yes, they can really do this. I am not saying this to scold or commend anyone. … I am saying this so that we take this into account in our practical work in the American direction.”
The problem, however, is that it isn’t only the Russophobic U.S. establishment that bears the blame for all the problems in the bilateral relationship. Rather, it’s Trump himself who has recently posed the biggest problem. Trump’s lack of discipline and inability to talk convincingly about even a moderately tough stance on Russia is again stirring up the hornet’s nest in Washington. That’s why, after watching Monday’s press conference, some wealthy and powerful Russians who know the West well have been exchanging text messages that have in common a variation on one phrase: “This moron is making things worse, and it’s going to end very badly.” Sooner rather than later, the Kremlin will come to regret its Helsinki triumph.Conventional wisdom held that Congress would unite, finally, to do the right thing and defy Trump. Yet, when it came to it, Trump opponents began bleeding off, increasing the numbers of Trump supporters. Then the base held. With that, patriotism and principle were thrown to the wolves. With mid-term elections barely four months away, there was little appetite among Congressional Republicans for offending the base.
And then, as if he were immune to rebuke and restraint, Trump doubled down, bitch-slapped the Republican Congress and invited Putin to a sleepover in the White House.
Putin has to be wandering the Kremlin halls asking WTF? He was expecting Trump to have cut his own throat with Congress and the American people. There would be consequences, some worrisome. All that work down the drain.
But that didn't happen. Trump's base held. They didn't care. They don't mind Putin. They've got a thing for authoritarianism - so long as it's white.
That's bad enough in its own right. What makes it worse is that Vlad's people are watching this, dumbstruck, recording everything and putting it through the grinder of analysis and strategy.
I'm sure they can't believe what this unexpectedly large segment of the population was/is willing to abide/ignore. There's a mountain of intelligence in that one revelation. What a look into the modern American psyche? Everything from the fracture of meaningful social cohesion, to the groups involved in penetrating and manipulating, even manufacturing informed consent.
There are ways to weaponize that sort of intelligence. This isn't over. Helsinki may have been a breakthrough after all.