Reaction of Trump’s Base to Helsinki Is a Forecast of Things to Come

Polls are beginning to show that, while most Americans disapprove of Trump’s performance during the press conference with Putin following their meeting in Helsinki, the president’s base of supporters in the Republican Party approved.

An Axios/SurveyMonkey poll finds that 79 percent of Republicans approved of Trump’s handling of the summit, while 91 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents disagreed. In total, that puts overall disapproval at 58 percent, and approval at 40.

A CBS News survey, meanwhile, produces largely similar results…68 percent of Republicans told the network that Trump did a good job in Helsinki, 83 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents said he did a bad one.

McKay Coppins reports on the rationalizations that are developing on the right.

Several people pointed me to Jacob Wohl, a Trump booster with a large Twitter following, who had mused just hours earlier, “If Russia assists MAGA Candidates on the internet in this year’s midterms, that’s not the end of the world.” And others re-upped a C-SPAN clip from the day before in which a caller identified as Mary Lou from Connecticut said, “I’ll try not to sound too awful, but I want to thank the Russians for interfering with our election to stop Hillary Clinton from becoming president. That woman has got illusions of grandeur.”…

Skimming #MAGA Twitter, it’s easy to see the outlines of the pro-Russian-meddling argument emerging: America interferes in other countries’ elections, so it can’t be that bad; exposing Democrats’ hacked emails was a victory for transparency; keeping Clinton out of office was so urgent and important that it warranted some foreign intervention.

It is often noted that this is the same Republican base that spent decades fear mongering about the godless communists of the former USSR and hailed their hero Ronald Reagan for calling them the “evil empire.” But it is important to remember that their hero is also credited with ending the communist threat of the Cold War and the that former Soviet Union broke apart. So that is old news.

In the years that followed, the neoconservatives began to rehabilitate the country’s image.

Three decades ago, right-wing French intellectual Jean-Francois Revel published a call to arms entitled “How Democracies Perish,” which quickly became a key text of the neoconservative movement and an ideological blueprint for the Reagan administration. Revel argued that the Soviet Union’s brutality and immunity from internal criticism gave it an inherent advantage over the democratic West — the United States and Europe were too liberal, too open, too humane, too soft to defeat the resolute men of the Iron Curtain.

“Unlike the Western leadership, which is tormented by remorse and a sense of guilt,” wrote Revel, “Soviet leaders’ consciences are perfectly clear, which allows them to use brute force with utter serenity both to preserve their power at home and to extend it abroad.”

That’s why, when Putin invaded Ukraine, we heard things like, “That’s what you call a leader” from Rudy Giuliani.

Meanwhile, shortly after Vladimir Putin was re-elected in 2012, he initiated a long-term plan to reach out to Republican base voters by mending fences with the Russian Orthodox Church and making remarks like this:

“We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization,” he said at a conference in 2013. “They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious, and even sexual … They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.” By succumbing to secularism, he noted on another occasion, the West was trending toward “chaotic darkness” and a “return to a primitive state.”

Those moves brought him the support of white evangelicals like Franklin Graham and, as Casey Michel documented, made Putin the global leader of the Christian right. In addition, Martin recently wrote about how Russia played the long game in its attempts to court the NRA. Finally, I provided some examples of how the same efforts were extended to connect with white nationalists in this country.

The upshot of all of this is that long before Russia took direct action to interfere in the 2016 election, Vladimir Putin was recruiting Donald Trump as an asset and reaching out to white evangelicals, gun rights activists and white nationalists in order to secure the support of the groups that would be central to electing Trump as president.

That is why, when Trump aligns himself with Putin’s goals to the extent that we all point out that he is actually colluding with Russia in front of our eyes, the president’s supporters don’t have a problem with that. They see Putin as an ally against the much bigger threat of Democrats like Hillary Clinton.

If Robert Mueller produces a report documenting a conspiracy between Russia and Trump to influence the 2016 election, this is what will inform the reaction of Trump’s base of supporters. They will simply see it as a smart move on the part of their president.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .