Based on the last 72 hours of mainstream media coverage, life is imitating art, and President Donald Trump has single-handedly triggered “Red Dawn II: Putin’s Electric Boogaloo.”
From the smug talking heads, to ubiquitous cable news tickers, to a steady stream of catastrophizing tweets, it appears we’re only hours away from the National Mall’s reflecting pool being filled with port and reshaped to resemble Gorbachev’s rouge birthmark while Lenin, Marx, Stalin and Putin stare down at us from Mt. Rushmore … I mean Mt. Iofan … in South Khrushchev-akota.
Conservatives too are falling prey to the media’s truly record-setting coordinated messaging on the “failed” Helsinki Summit. Even my wife, an unabashed Trump supporter, asked last night, “What in the world did Trump do? Everyone’s saying a disaster happened.”
If you believe the media, Trump left Helsinki having set the stage for Cuba II. If, however, you watched the presser itself — not snippets and soundbites — things sounded quite different.
In the course of 90 minutes or so, Hillary Clinton was skewered, Vladimir Putin put on notice, Democrats raked over the coals, America’s energy supremacy touted, distrust between Trump and Putin was openly acknowledged and responses to questions were dominated by Trump in an almost comically aggressive way.
Not exactly the docket for a former Soviet love fest.
First, let’s take Trump’s “U.S. foolishness” comment that the media’s trying to use to wedge Trump and heartland America apart. Trump’s actual comment was, “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity …”
(Forget for a minute that “blame America first” is the official position of the left and the mainstream media. War in the Middle East? America’s fault. Tension with China? America again. African poverty? You guessed it — those selfish Americans. For the MSM to suddenly act shocked and offended by the idea of U.S. fallibility is mind-bogglingly tone deaf.)
Asked to elaborate during the summit, Trump said he also blames Russia. Now notice here that he assented to a media talking point. And what did the media do in response? They ignored that he agreed with them and moved on to their next attack. (Remember, the media ignores any capitulation from conservatives and then moves on to the next horror they can lay at the feet of those same conservatives).
But the reason Trump’s foolishness comment really got the media’s collective goat is that he dared, in front of Putin and the whole world, to blame Hillary and Barack Obama for that foolishness. Trump was never blaming any foolishness on the American people. He was blaming the previous administration, and he was right. And that incensed the media.
Trump also made no bones about doing everything possible to provide Europe an alternative to Russian energy. The media has mostly ignored those comments, not only because Trump was wise to make them, but also because the mainstream media’s woefully ignorant of geopolitics.
Europe’s dependence on Russian energy is an Achilles heel, especially for Germany. Without Russian energy, homes go cold in the winter and people literally die. That energy monopoly gives Moscow a massive tool with which to pressure the EU. If the U.S. denies Russia that monopoly, Moscow’s international power would take a significant hit.
In that same exchange, Trump also noted the United States’ current — or soon-to-be realized — global energy supremacy. Russia depends on energy exports not only to manipulate other powers but more importantly as a vital source of income. If the U.S. can cut into that income by either stealing client states or reducing prices through increased supply, the Russian people will feel the pinch.
He didn’t show it, but Putin may well have had the strongest reaction to these comments from Trump because of the size of the threat they represent.
As the news conference began to wind down, Putin took honesty — or political game theory — to a new level by bluntly saying that there’s absolutely no reason to believe he and Trump trust each other. “You can trust no one … Where did you get this idea that President Trump trusts me or I trust him?” he said.
That isn’t rhetoric anyone would expect from a puppet master talking about his puppet. It’s hard to imagine even Uncle Joe telling the masses of the Soviet satellite states, “You shouldn’t trust me — our interests don’t always align.” Sure, he terrified other leaders, but he wanted the masses to think he and the state loved them.
A final summit win for Trump you won’t find the mainstream media talking about has to do with how he handled questions. Multiple times Trump shanghaied questions directed at Putin or played the alpha role, saying he would let Putin answer that particular question. At one point, Trump actually stole a question from Putin, cutting him off before he could answer.
Now all of this has been conveniently left out as the media focused on the election interference question and answer. And we need to address that.
Trump has yet to make a political misstep as glaring as his Russian interference comment, “I don’t see any reason why it would be (Russian intelligence interfering in American elections) …”
It sounded naive on its face and unthoughtful on reflection, which is the more regrettable because Trump is neither of those things. Far more likely is that first Trump failed to navigate the twists and turns required to both reboot a stalled superpower relationship and also challenge a geopolitical rival. Veer too far to one side, and you look soft. Veer too far to the other, and you open yourself to accusations of arrogance, nationalism and hegemonic bullying. As long as Trump didn’t navigate perfectly, the media would get their talking points.
Trump tried to navigate those twists and turns, but in a rare public instance, he failed. Trump now says he misspoke, intending instead to say, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t (have been Russia) …” Take that for what it likely is — half damage control, half genuine regret. But that line kicked off one of the most incredibly dishonest and hypocritical media cycles ever.
So what do we do with Trump’s misstep?
First, let’s remember that all the weeping and gnashing of teeth coming from the left rings hollow given that one of their heroes, John F. Kennedy, brought the world to the brink of nuclear war over Cuba, thanks to his feckless performance meeting Kruschev for the first time. Trump’s performance wasn’t even comparable, but the left’s outrage is orders of magnitude greater.
Second, consider that Trump’s skepticism over U.S. intel should be a godsend to journalists, an entire industry that castigated George W. Bush for not being more skeptical of U.S. intel on Iraq. Instead, the MSM is losing its mind over a president who’s just what they wanted — skeptical of U.S. intel. That hypocrisy would be remarkable, were it not so obviously ideologically driven by an ideologically driven media — Republican president trusts intel? Traitor! Republican president questions intel? Traitor!
Third, we remind ourselves the question that triggered all of this was deliberately worded such that any answer Trump gave would be used against him.
Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire asked Trump, “… would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin — would you denounce what happened in 2016? And would you warn him to never do it again?”
The first part of the question was designed to get Trump to validate Mueller’s investigation. Trump refused to spring the trap, so outrage ensued. Radio icon Rush Limbaugh suspects that is the real reason the media’s foaming at the mouth, and he’s right. That would have been a true coup for the media — Trump admitting Mueller’s investigation is not only legitimate but essential. If he admitted that, Trump would have lost his greatest rhetorical weapon — the ability to frame the entire investigation in terms of elites abusing their power. That’s far too valuable a position to compromise, and it has the added virtue of being true. Trump’s refusal to concede that ground has left the media spasmodic with rage.
While Trump dodged the main trap, the media did trip him up with a smaller, ancillary trap built into the second question — the one about warning Putin against future interference. There Trump faced a choice of Paris — either warn Putin against future interference or ignore it.
To warn Putin would be absurd, almost to the level of warning him not to build tanks or ICMBs. Nobody’s saying it, but interference is what intelligence agencies do. They all do it. Just like defense departments facilitate war that’s in the national interest, intelligence agencies facilitate interference in elections to advance national interests. (And forget intel agencies for a second. Just for fun let’s recall that Obama openly interfered in Israel’s elections in 2015.) Obviously Putin’s going to act in his nation’s interests. Warning someone against doing something he’s 100 percent going to do anyway doesn’t dissuade the person, it just makes the person issuing the warning look weak. If he were to warn Putin against interference, Trump might as well have warned him against building bombers too. He would have looked completely anemic, and the media would love that.
The alternative Trump was left with, then, was to publicly reject warning Putin, which the media would then instantly use to bolster their claims of collusion, for which there is still absolutely zero evidence.
Neither option they gave Trump was good. His refusal to look weak won out, so he took the second option. And that’s when the media’s flim-flam and fake rage machine kicked into overdrive.
So, the media got some of what they wanted, but missed the biggie — Trump condemning Putin in such a way he personally validated Mueller. Why all the unified and unprecedented levels of angst, vitriol, bile and faux patriotism then? Because the main trap they laid — trying to get Trump to validate Mueller– failed. He spotted it in the “would you denounce” question and stubbornly refused to spring it. It was messy, but he denied them a response that would have been infinitely more useful to the left and damaging to Trump. What he did give them was far less useful and had to be supplemented with a hyper-strong reaction from the media. If the steak’s not great, sell the sizzle instead.
The mainstream media thought they set up a potential Trump knockout, but he dodged the main blow, made the best of a messy situation, and came out with his base still intact. So now, without the real response they wanted, a very disappointed media has had to ratchet up the rhetoric in an effort to make up the difference. And that is why all hell has broken loose. Hell hath no fury like an elite media scorned.
Josh Manning is Chief Content Curator for the Western Journal and holds a masters degree in public policy from Harvard University.
The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website. If you are interested in contributing an Op-Ed to The Western Journal, you can learn about our submission guidelines and process here.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.