Here’s How Republicans Are Defending Trump’s ‘Very Strong’ Putin Summit

“Trump’s critics are hysterical precisely because they know he succeeded.”

“You were very strong at the end of that press conference,” a fawning Sean Hannity told President Donald Trump not long after the American president gave a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, Monday.

And Hannity wasn’t the only one who thought so.

Believe it or not, leading members of the conservative movement — hawks, fans of defense, and freedom — raced to defend the presser, in which Trump seemed to imply that on matters of national security he’d rather take Putin’s word rather than trust his own intelligence agencies.

Trump also said he blames “both countries” for the deterioration in US-Russia relations and failed to come up with one problem he has with Putin, a brutal autocrat who opposes Western interests around the world.

Of course, a lot of Americans — from the right and left — were horrified.

Those comments and others prompted leading Democrats to suggest that Trump has been blackmailed into doing Putin’s bidding, and even some Republican skeptics to entertain the possibility. Others allowed that Trump may just be a “useful idiot.”

However, as always, there were some who stood strong against the liberal “haters.” Here are the three main lines of defense they have offered, in descending order of absurdity:

Trump absolutely dominated the Putin summit. 

Breitbart editor Joel Pollak outright rejected criticism of the press conference as sour grapes.

“Trump’s critics, who are reduced to worrying that a soccer ball could be used to spy on the US, are hysterical precisely because they know he succeeded,” Pollak said, referring to the fringe concern that the World Cup soccer ball Putin gave Trump could contain a monitoring device.

Pollak specifically denied that Trump sided with Russia over US intelligence, and instead offered a generous interpretation of Trump’s remarks as “nudging Russia toward a less adversarial posture.”

According to Pollak, critics failed to acknowledge that Trump had leveraged his administration’s tough stance on Russia to address some of America’s most pressing concerns, including how to handle Syria, Iran, and North Korea.

Pollak also noted that Putin himself said that Trump had privately pressed him on Russian election meddling and the annexation of Crimea.

A number of Fox News hosts made versions of the same argument on air Monday. Sean Hannity, for one, began his post-summit show by criticizing the “unhinged media” for going after Trump for his performance and failing to give him credit for his strength.

Trump’s critics simply want to take him down and are possibly part of a “deep state” conspiracy.

A number of conservatives largely ignored the substance of the Trump-Putin press conference and focused on what they characterized as a self-serving freakout by those who oppose Trump’s presidency.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Monday interviewed Stephen Cohen, who is a Russia expert, a contributing editor for The Nation, and a  known Putin apologist. The two men agreed that the anti-Trump mob was out of control.

“The reaction by most of the media, by the Democrats, by the anti-Trump people, is like mob violence,” Cohen said. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

Others went further and hinted that the “deep state” — or a supposed cabal of anti-Trump bureaucrats imagined by right-wing conspiracy theorists — was at it again.

In an interview with Trump, Hannity praised the president for changing the subject during the press conference from Russian meddling to questions meant to call into question the FBI’s integrity.

“You were very strong at the end of that press conference,” Hannity gushed. “You said: “Where are the servers? What about what Peter Strzok says? Where are the 33,000 emails?”

Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, told CNN Monday that Trump was not “unreasonable” to be skeptical of his intelligence agencies. Issa also expressed suspicion about the FBI’s release Friday of an indictment against 12 Russian officials the agency alleges took part in hacking the 2016 election.

Fox News host, Laura Ingraham, tweeted Monday that Obama-era CIA Director John Brennan’s condemnation of Trump’s press conference as “treasonous” raised questions about whether he had been the one who meddled in the election.

Trump messed up, but not because he’s Putin’s puppet. 

Some half-hearted Trump defenders, including officials in his administration, acknowledged that the summit had not gone well. But they denied the most extreme theories about why.

Trump had not kowtowed to Putin, they said, but simply continued his practice of conflating Russian meddling and collusion allegations, and punching back at both.

Officials in the Trump administration offered a version of this explanation to Axios’ Jonathan Swan Monday in off the record interviews.

According to Swan, the officials essentially said that Trump’s “brain can’t process that collusion and cyber attacks are two different things,” and, “Ego prevents him acknowledging the possibility that any external action could have interfered with his glorious victory.”

Swan said the White House staffers he spoke with “are not proud of the man they work for,” but are also unlikely to resign.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro made a similar case Monday in an essay for National Review.

While Shapiro acknowledged that Trump’s press conference was “deeply disgraceful” and “disgusting,” he said it does not prove the Democrats’ contention that Trump is “in bed with the Russians.”

“Far more likely, it means that Trump’s ego is one giant gaping wound, constantly draining rage over the suggestion that his 2016 election victory was somehow ill-won,” Shapiro argued.

However, Vox politics editor Laura McGann called BS. She contended in both a Twitter thread and an article Monday that Trump has made perfectly clear that he understands the difference between meddling and collusion.

“If the best defense that the aides closest to Trump can come up with for his open support for Putin as Putin stood their and lied is that he’s delusional, they must either be delusional themselves or believe that we are delusional enough to buy it.”

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