President and campaigner-in-chief Donald Trump kicked off a most unconventional down-home political rally Wednesday and quickly fired up his hardcore voters with the rip-roaring populist jingo they love to hear.
Understandably unnerved as special counsel Robert Mueller’s ever-tightening probe seems to have entered a new witness-flipping phase involving ex-senior confidants, Trump seems to have launched his own new phase, hoping to shore up his political base while he still can. Never mind that he was across the pond at NATO’s Brussels headquarters.
If you caught Trump’s Wednesday event on radio and couldn’t see the scene — that was a plus. You probably figured he was talking to the same folks who always whooped and hollered at his “Make America Great Again” rallies when he fumed that America spends massively to protect Europe and Asia, but our allies don’t pay their fair share. As in his rant from this week: “Many countries are not paying what they should. And frankly, many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back, where they’re delinquent, as far as I’m concerned … It’s massive amounts of money is owed … It’s unfair to our country … our taxpayers.”
But if you caught Trump’s Wednesday event on a video screen, well, you were handicapped because you saw Trump sitting at a long narrow breakfast table, across from NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. So you probably had the mistaken impression that Trump’s words had to be targeted at a NATO summit audience. Not really. NATO’s secretary general was just playing the role of Trump’s potted plant. As were those you saw sitting next to Trump: chief of staff Gen. John Kelly, U.S. NATO ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (all struggling to maintain poker faces showing no trace of their disapproval).
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But Trump was only warming up, as he shifted into his super-populist (see also: super-bullying) gear and worked hard to get his voter base cheering back home by lashing out repeatedly and redundantly at America’s super-loyal NATO ally Germany for entering into a pipeline deal to buy gas from Russia.”
I think it’s very sad … goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia. So we’re protecting Germany. We’re protecting France. We’re protecting all of these countries. … Germany is totally controlled by Russia, because they will be getting from 60 to 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline. … I think it’s a very bad thing for NATO and I don’t think it should have happened.”
What was all that really about? Well, among us outsiders, Trump knows better than any of us just what (if anything) exists to be discovered by Mueller’s investigators that might potentially disillusion Trump’s now-staunch supporter base. Including the cash he received from his Russian business investors back when Trump appeared near bankruptcy and, more recently, when he has been able to purchase properties with cash.
Trump knows it always plays well on the campaign trail when he complains about America getting shafted by its allies. Indeed, way back in 1987, Trump, who was exploring a run for the presidency, took out full-page ads in the New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe (which circulates in New Hampshire) stating that America “should stop paying to defend countries that can afford to defend themselves.”
On Monday, Trump and Putin will summit in Helsinki in a highly debated one-on-one summit with no top advisers or note-takers. And while you might think Russian President Vladimir Putin might not like what Trump was saying about Russia at NATO this week, you might want to shift into rethink. Putin’s grandest schemes have been about breaking up the relationships that bind America, NATO and Europe.
This week, Trump has accomplished more to shatter America’s ties with its European allies than any cyber-sabotage scheme the Kremlin ever produced.
This week, and so far in his presidency, Trump has proven himself a highly valuable asset to Putin’s Kremlin. In every sense of the word — including the parlance of the intelligence community.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive.
Tribune News Service