Of all the advice the White House has heard about how the president can help his party going into a tough, crucial midterm election, I am reasonably sure no one came up with this idea:
That’s right: Even as congressional Republicans and key members of Trump’s own administration try to figure out what the boss said to Boss Putin in Helsinki, and to assess the damage to U.S. interests and Trump’s own domestic and international standing, POTUS is working on a sequel. In the United States. In the autumn.
As New York’s Jonathan Chait wrote when Trump aired the thought of a second “summit” with Putin, he’s “characteristically doubling down in the most literal way possible.” But I doubt anyone thought “discussions are already underway” toward a meeting in Washington so very soon. After Labor Day, the president and his party are supposed to be focused exclusively on the twin goals of getting Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court and flogging “base” voters to the polls to save the GOP’s hold on Congress. A Trump–Putin summit in the middle of all this is about as welcome to Republicans as a rattlesnake beneath the breakfast table.
Republican leaders are doubtless hoping they can escape repercussions from the first summit because GOP voters don’t seem to care about what Trump did or said, while other voters (who have a much dimmer view of the bizarre affair) will perhaps forget about it. That won’t be possible if Trump insists on a sequel. The president’s whole consistently disturbing midsummer mystery tour to Europe never made much political sense given the timing. Bringing his global disruptions back home, particularly in the form of Vladimir Putin himself, is beyond baffling.
You do have to wonder what Putin and his circle think of this strange development, and how he should express gratitude to his great admirer for his generosity. What does he do in Washington? Give Trump an opportunity to restore his alpha dog image after his beta dog behavior in Helsinki? Double down on the election meddling allegations and barnstorm with Trump through the House battleground states? Nothing seems too odd to be incredible at this point, unless it all turns out to be just another Trump feint.