There is plenty being written and discussed about what happened during and following the meeting between President Trump and President Putin. Truthfully, humiliating as the statements, misstatements and corrections are, little has changed.
No fewer missiles exist. No troops have been moved. No reduction of suffering in Syria has been experienced.
What has shifted are the political winds in Washington, D.C.
Some leaders persuade by the strength of their arguments and rhetoric. Like it or not, President Trump uses fear.
He attacks foes with abandon. He denounces elected officials who defy him. And, he endorses candidates who support him opposing those who dare to disagree with him even in his own party.
This approach left the nation with Republican leaders of the House and Senate, where the party currently holds narrow majorities, with a dilemma. Often unsure about what the President’s policy preferences are and pretty certain they will change on a whim, the leaders hesitated opposition or even criticism out of fear. Lack of clarity, challenging as it might make the governing process, was far better than encountering the wrath of the complainer in chief.
That changed this week.
Consider these factors:
Are concerned Republicans and Independents more supportive of the President at the end of the week than they were at the beginning of the week?
Are incumbent Republican officeholders feeling more obliged or less obliged to voice unqualified support for the President at the end of the week?
Are conservative Republican incumbents who have been in lock-step with President Trump feeling more vulnerable or less vulnerable from challengers in the upcoming elections?
Finally, are potential Republican challengers to President Trump in 2020 feeling more embolden or less embolden to take on the sitting President?
My view: none of these questions can objectively be answered in a way helpful to the President.
Now, one bad (let’s make that very bad) week in July is a long way from November 2018 when voters will be asked to vote on all 435 House members and a third of the members of the United State Senate. However, it is very hard for me to see how the missteps of this week don’t play into the Fall elections. And, this is not good news for the Administration.
Look for more Congressional races to get close, or even tilt to the party out of power – the Democrats.
Look for more Republicans to feel disconnected from their party….yes, there will be strong and vocal supporters for the President, but 25% of the Republican vote will not be enough to keep safe Republicans safe.
Most of all, look for Republican leaders who have spent years trying to work through serious issues like immigration, health care, trade and our national defense and intelligence structures to find themselves caring far less about the utterances coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Putin may not have been moved one iota this week, but the political winds in Washington shifted big time. As for how long, to quote the President’s favorite expression, “we’ll see.”
Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.