Trump and Putin at G20 in Hamburg
Credit: Алексей М/Flickr

Donald Trump has spent a lifetime conning people. From his earliest days wheedling banks out of their money to run failing casinos, to selling overpriced low-quality steaks and fraudulent real estate courses with his name on them, to projecting the image of a hard-nosed businessman for a fake reality show, Trump has always been about the con. His answer to any challenge is to bluster and bull his way through.

So it should come as no surprise that, rather than try to mitigate the damage of whatever may have happened between his campaign and the Russians in 2016 by being aggressive with Putin at the G20 summit, Trump’s strategy was to be chummy with the Russian dictator then try to declare that everyone should ignore the whole thing and move forward:

President Donald Trump said Sunday that “it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia” after his lengthy meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Germany. But he is still avoiding the question of whether he accepts Putin’s denial that Russia was responsible for meddling in the 2016 election.

Speaking in a series of tweets the morning after returning from a world leaders’ summit in Germany, Trump said he “strongly pressed” Putin twice over Russian meddling during their meeting Friday.

This is happening even as the net is beginning to tighten around his immediate family in regards to Russian interference:

Two weeks after Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination last year, his eldest son arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin, according to confidential government records described to The New York Times.

The previously unreported meeting was also attended by Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, as well as the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to interviews and the documents, which were outlined by people familiar with them.

Trying to bluff one’s way through a sticky situation is the hallmark of a veteran con artist. But that won’t work this time for Trump and his family. There comes a point at which too many people are paying attention, and the stakes are too high, for bluffing to work. The talented con artist changes tactics at this point. Among the possibilities are pretending to hold underlings accountable, false contrition, fake shows of aggressive bravado against the very criminal actors one colluded with, and the like.

But the “nothing to see here, I’m awesome and you’re a loser” strategy Trump has used his entire adult life won’t get him through this. And increasingly it seems he’s a one trick pony.

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Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.