EAST PENNSBORO, Pa. – The rest of official Washington might be in free-fall over President Donald Trump’s Bizzaro-World press conference in Helsinki with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin on Monday.
But not Jeffrey Lord.
From his home on the outskirts of Pennsylvania’s capital city of Harrisburg, the cylinders on Lord’s one-man Trump normalization machine are still firing as reliably as they were in those heady days of 2017, when he was a thrice-daily fixture on CNN, offering defenses of the 45th president so contorted that they probably paid for his orthopedist’s beach house.
On Tuesday, Lord lamented what he described as the “lack of historical perspective” on the interactions between American presidents and foreign leaders, and the “group-think” he says has overtaken Washington’s political establishment with their increasingly vocal criticism of Trump’s stunning refusal to publicly condemn Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“I just don’t think he’s a sucker for anything,” said Lord, who also happens to be among the conservative media personalities getting punked this summer by British comic Sacha Baron Cohen.
“It’s not [Trump’s] personality,” he continued. “If he feels that Putin, or anyone else, has crossed him on something, he’s going to respond. I worked in the Reagan White House. I remember the liberals who were condemning Reagan left and right for the Evil Empire speech.”
The way Lord sees it, Trump was observing diplomatic protocol by not publicly blasting Putin over last week’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence agents by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
As a matter of full disclosure: I’ve known Lord since the 2016 campaign cycle. We’re friendly, but hardly “let’s grab beers after work” friendly. I find him personable and often funny.
But in this instance, he could not be more wrong.
There’s nothing normal about what happened in Helsinki on Monday. And any attempt to portray that way is to dangerously undermine government institutions that this aberrant administration already tries to demolish daily.
What can only be described as Trump’s genuflection to Putin came at the end of a week of political disasters that saw him take a shredder to the North Atlantic alliance, go out of his way to insult German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and publicly undermine British Prime Minister Theresa May.
These diplomatic and strategic triumphs for the Russian president were capped by Trump’s attacks Monday on his own intelligence community and the FBI, along with the president fantastically and offensively insisting that there was some kind of equivalency of blame for strained Russo-American relations.
“I think [Trump] has sanctions in place still,” Lord said. “He’s got stuff going. He just came from the NATO meeting where he was scolding Angela Merkel for that gas pipeline. That could hardly be taken by Putin as a friendly gesture.”
Except that it was: Publicly scolding an ally and calling her a pawn of Putin’s government drives a wedge between America and Germany. That’s a win for Putin, no matter how you slice it.
Lord also claims that Trump “likes and respects [National Intelligence Director] Dan Coats.” But that claim is hard to swallow when the boss publicly sides with a geopolitical rival over his own national security apparatus.
“[Trump] said something along the lines that Dan Coats said it was the Russians. And Putin strongly disagreed,” Lord said. “He doesn’t say what Putin said to him.”
For the purposes of the record, here’s exactly what Trump said, according to NPR: “People came to me. Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Well, of course not.
Any acknowledgment by Trump of the validity of the Russian role or the charges brought by Mueller’s office against those Russian agents would strike at the heart of his legitimacy. And that’s something that Trump cannot countenance — under any circumstance.
About the only thing that gives Lord any pause is that another major Trump-whisperer, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who said Trump’s remarks about the security community were the “most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected — immediately.”
“The one who caught my attention was Newt,” Lord said. “I would pay attention to Newt, I would listen to him. You may not agree with him, but you would hear him out at least. Because Newt is one smart guy — and he, too, is a hardline person.”
But it has to come as some comfort to Trump, that even when the entire world is aligned against him, Jeffrey Lord still has his back.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at email@example.com.