Politics is like baseball. It’s complicated, sometimes slow-moving, has lots of moving parts, and there are tons of statistics. Donald Trump is a tough-talking slugger, always swinging for the fences. This can thrill his supporters, but increases the risk of striking out on key initiatives. Sometimes, a strikeout can be forgiven if the opposing pitcher is skilled and is on a hot streak. When points are lost due to unforced errors, however, the crowd starts grumbling.
Whether you love Trump or hate Trump, you have to admit that he is facing the most unified Democratic opposition in decades. Due to the nature of his campaign, he entered the White House as a reviled figure. No Democrat who wants to avoid being called the next Benedict Arnold would even think about breaking ranks as long as Trump continues to behave in his normal manner.
But, even accounting for this united opposition, Trump is still underperforming. Most recently, the commander-in-chief is under fire for allegedly revealing intelligence secrets during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. If loose lips can sink ships, they can also sink a 2020 re-election campaign!
The awkwardness of inadvertently discussing classified info is compounded by the fact that Russia has been a thorn in Trump’s side since before Election Day. Had Trump accidentally given intelligence secrets to Canada, Germany, or Sweden, it would have been a brief political faux pas. But to spill the beans to a non-ally, especially one who might have purposely swung the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor, is a tremendous embarrassment. It raises the question of Trump’s general competence, for shouldn’t one be particularly careful to protect state secrets when in the presence of Russia or China?
To make matters worse, the intelligence wasn’t necessarily ours to give: Reports suggest that the intel given by Trump to Lavrov and co. came from Israel, a close counterterrorism ally. Humiliatingly, people in our government may have anticipated this diplomatic fumble: Intelligence officials have reportedly told Israel to avoid sharing sensitive info with the White House out of concern that the Russians might be fed the news, which could be passed on to Iran. If any intel that could be used against Israel ends up in the hands of Iran, the scandal could be catastrophic.
With European leaders suggesting that they might curtail sharing intelligence with the White House, lest Trump funnel it to the Russians out of naiveté or “humanitarianism,” the GOP definitely has egg all over its face.
Democrats, conservatives have long claimed, are the ones weak on defense and soft on terrorism. If Donald Trump erodes networks of trust with European allies and Israel, who are much closer to the action in Afghanistan and Syria, the GOP could become the party that is mocked for fumbling on national defense. On foreign policy, the former real estate scion projects the image of an immature loudmouth who claims to want to play hard but doesn’t know the rules- and Republicans on Capitol Hill are not pleased
From John McCain to Susan Collins to Lamar Alexander, Senate Republicans are exasperated at the possibility that the president inadvertently gave the Russians secret intel. While nobody is accusing Trump of breaking any laws (as president, he is allowed to declassify any information he wishes), there is substantial discomfort that he appears to be so blasé about confidential material.
When you spent a big chunk of the 2016 presidential election criticizing your opponent for being careless with classified information, the hypocrisy will definitely cost you some votes in 2020. By being as careless as Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump makes the entire Republican Party look hypocritical for condemning the former Secretary of State for her private e-mail server. No longer can the GOP claim to be the party that is strong on gathering and protecting clandestine intelligence.
This error is increasing the stress on Trump’s beleaguered staff, which is doing damage control as fast as it can. The fact that Trump and his staff never seem to be on the same page about any of his quasi-scandals bodes ill for the future. When underlings, like national security adviser H.R. McMaster, explain that the president didn’t realize that the information he gave to the Russians was classified…but then the president implies that he did know but deemed sharing the info pertinent and necessary, it looks bad.
Posting said contradictory information on Twitter practically adds insult to injury, doubling down on the image of improvisation and unprofessionalism.
The cozying up to Russia despite its recent international aggressions (see: Ukraine) also raises questions about whether or not Trump can stand up to tyrants. It didn’t help either when Trump said he would be “honored” to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The man who wants to boost defense spending by a whopping 10 percent and destroy ISIS has an alarming ease with alleged human rights violators. By hurting his credibility on being a global “law and order” leader, Trump similarly hurts the reputation of all congressional defense hawks.
Since the Russian meeting debacle hit the news cycle right after the controversial Comey firing, the Trump administration has had little time to regroup and strategize. Republicans, in general, have had little or no time to work on how to diplomatically voice their continued support for Trump without appearing like lovelorn rubes. Their patience with the president is wearing thin, and it will likely cost him health care reform.