Had Trump answered the hypothetical about taking campaign information from the Russians in 2020 in any other way than he did, it would have been read as a confession that he and his son did something wrong in 2016, and Trump almost never admits to having been wrong—or to anyone in his family being at fault.
President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign will handle damaging information on political opponents provided by foreign governments and entities on a “case by case basis,” according to the campaign’s top spokesperson.
Asked about Mr. Trump’s assertion that he would be receptive to dirt on rivals offered by foreigners, Kayleigh McEnany, the national press secretary for the president’s reelection bid, told CBSN’s “Red & Blue” that campaign staff should take the president’s comments as a “directive” to handle foreign dirt through a two-pronged approach.
“The president’s directive, as he said, [it’s] a case by case basis. He said he would likely do both: Listen to what they have to say, but also report it to the FBI,” McEnany said. She denied that the president’s comments were an “open invitation” for foreign actors to interfere in the 2020 campaign.
The head of the Federal Election Commission released a statement on Thursday evening reiterating, emphatically, that foreign assistance is illegal in U.S. elections.
“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election,” wrote Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of the FEC. “This is not a novel concept.”
She also sent the statement via Twitter with the introductory line: “I would not have thought that I needed to say this.”
Candidates have historically shied away from foreign associations, governed in part by federal election law, which prohibits foreign nationals from contributing to U.S. campaigns or making election expenditures. Those restrictions are built on a long-standing principle, dating back to the country’s founding, that elections should be free from foreign influence, historians said.
George Washington, the nation’s first president, warned of the “insidious wiles of foreign influence” as he left office in 1796.
“The jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government,” he said.
Founder Alexander Hamilton was specifically worried about a foreign power’s effort to cultivate a president or other top official, warning in the Federalist Papers of “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.”
As much as the media might be inclined to cast Trump’s views on this issue as an aberration, they are, on the contrary, completely in line with what has become the GOP’s overarching strategy for retaining power as its capacity to win votes declines: through gerrymandering, stacking courts, gutting campaign finance regulations, and now welcoming help from foreign governments.
The Republicans’ power-hunger corresponds directly with their dwindling democratic opportunities.
A party that has realized it can’t succeed by conforming with the operating rules for a functioning democracy has concluded its self-ascribed “right to govern” depends upon the systematic subversion of the principles upon which this country was founded.
Those individual Republicans who still believe in democracy will surely eventually realize that they are going to have to choose between continued support for a party that is gradually strangling democracy or support for democracy itself. (Needless to say, that has nothing to do with deciding to become Democrats.)