Advertisement
Features

Republicans rattled by Trump

The president’s party puts up with a lot – but cosying up to Putin was too much.

905-Putin-634
Trump scores an own-goal

"After 17 months, three weeks and six days of Donald Trump's tumultuous presidency, some of his fellow Republicans had finally had enough," says Peter Baker in The New York Times. The extraordinary press conference in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin, in which Trump stated that he didn't "see any reason" why Russia should be behind US election interference, suggested that the US president had chosen to take the word of Russia's strongman over that of his own intelligence agencies. The remarks drew unprecedented criticism from the political right, with former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich saying that it was "the most serious mistake of his presidency".

Advertisement - Article continues below

Trump's summit with Putin was "a personal and national embarrassment", says The Wall Street Journal. Putin respects strength, but Trump's performance amounted to a "kowtow" that will allow Moscow to consolidate its strategic gains in Ukraine and Syria, where Russian-backed forces occupy large areas of territory. The president's constant criticism of Nato risks undermining support for the organisation in the United States, opening the way for the Russian dictator to try to "pull another Crimea" in one of the Baltic states. His description of the EU as a "foe" is stoking resentments that may come back to bite him, while his shoddy treatment of Theresa May will lead many to conclude that "working with Trump is more perilous than fighting him".

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Trump was initially defiant following his comments about election hacking. However, with most of the usual Trump surrogates declining to defend him on news networks, the president was forced into a rare retreat, retracting his statement the following day by claiming he misspoke. "The sentence should have been: I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia I said the word would' instead of wouldn't," Trump rather implausibly claimed after returning to Washington.

The muck won't stick

Expect normal service to resumeshortly, says Rob Crilly in The Daily Telegraph. Trump is a man "to whom muck never clings". We have gone from the "Access Hollywood" scandal the release of a tape of him making lewd remarks while recording a TV show to Charlottesville and his failure to condemn white supremacists to the administration "locking-up-children-at-the-border-gate" and still his career goes from strength to strength. Trump's rock-solid support among his base has held up through all of the crises of the last 18 months. Nevertheless, his curiously poodle-like performance in Helsinki has led some "to wonder whether the Russians really do have some kind of kompromat" (compromising material) on Trump.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Yet this isn't about some "nefarious" Russian plot. It's about Trump's "ridiculous ego problem", says Ben Shapiro in National Review. The president's ego is a "gaping wound, constantly draining rage over the suggestion that his 2016 election victory was somehow ill-won". He fired James Comey when the former Federal Bureau of Investigation director wouldn't clear him of collusion with Russia. Now the Mueller probe's indictment of 12 Russian agents for hacking Democratic officials in 2016 has him on the ropes again, prompting his later reversed musings in Helsinki.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

The truth is that many Americans have begun to "tune Trump out" and foreign leaders could now be doing something similar. Trump raged about Nato allies not pulling their weight last week, but other leaders ignored the rhetorical pyrotechnics, calculating that the administration's national security establishment isn't going to allow a US Nato pullout. "When Trump says stuff, it often doesn't matter."

Hong Kong continues authoritarian slide

The Hong Kong authorities have moved to ban the Hong Kong National Party, a small group that supports an independent "Republic of Hong Kong", on the grounds of national security. The party has been given 21 days to justify why it should not be banned.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Hong Kong is guaranteed significant autonomy and civil liberties under the "one country, two systems" agreement signed before the former British territory was handed back to China in 1997. However, recent years have brought growing concern that rights to freedom of speech and association and the rule of law are being eroded. The failure of large-scale protests in 2014, known as the Umbrella Movement, have led some activists down the pro-independence path, says Austin Ramzy in The New York Times.

Yet the two-year-old National Party still claims "at most a few dozen members and no elected lawmakers". The authorities' real objective is to stamp out separatist politics before the idea gains momentum, says the South China Morning Post. Local leaders also want to please their masters in Beijing, who are impatient with the territory's failure to bring in national security laws. Where liberal critics see a freedom of speech issue, Beijing sees the sovereignty question as an immutable "red line".

The use of a colonial-era law originally developed to deal with triad gangs will have a chilling effect on political activity, says Ben Bland in the FT. Authorities have already used the taboo about independence to bar pro-democracy candidates from standing for office, while other activists have been jailed in the past year for "unlawful assembly". Claudia Mo, an opposition member of the city's Legislative Council, says that many who campaign for democracy will feel like "sitting ducks" if the attempt to ban the party proves successful.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Recommended

How long can the good times roll?
Economy

How long can the good times roll?

Despite all the doom and gloom that has dominated our headlines for most of 2019, Britain and most of the rest of the developing world is currently en…
19 Dec 2019
South Africa faces a big economic storm
Emerging markets

South Africa faces a big economic storm

Recession hit South Africa has been the fifth-worst hit country in the world measured by the number of coronavirus cases. The local stockmarket has so…
7 Aug 2020
Is the bond market wrong about inflation?
Government bonds

Is the bond market wrong about inflation?

The bond rally suggests that markets are sanguine about inflation, but the gold rally suggests inflation is a real threat.
7 Aug 2020
The charts that matter: gold finally sets a new record high 
Global Economy

The charts that matter: gold finally sets a new record high 

As gold surges past its previous high, John Stepek looks at how it's affected the charts that matter most to the global economy.
1 Aug 2020

Most Popular

Don’t despair on dividends – these companies could be set to bring them back
Income investing

Don’t despair on dividends – these companies could be set to bring them back

The value of dividends paid out by UK stocks has plummeted this year as companies “rebase” their payment policies. But things could soon start to look…
6 Aug 2020
Platinum: the precious metal that looks set to play catch-up with silver and gold
Silver and other precious metals

Platinum: the precious metal that looks set to play catch-up with silver and gold

Gold and silver continue to soar, but there's still time to get in. And there's another precious metal that looks set to go on a bull run too, says Jo…
7 Aug 2020
The MoneyWeek Podcast: how to age well and profit from the “longevity dividend”
Investment strategy

The MoneyWeek Podcast: how to age well and profit from the “longevity dividend”

Merryn talks to economist and author Andrew J Scott and discusses how we can profit from the "longevity dividend" as we live longer; why we need to re…
6 Aug 2020