Yesterday, Donald Trump endorsed the line during an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.
“Okay, let’s put yourself in a position. You’re a congressman. Somebody comes up and says, ‘Hey, I have information on your opponent. Do you call the FBI? I don’t think [so]….
“This is somebody that said we have information on your opponent. ‘Oh, let me call the FBI.’ Give me a break. Life doesn’t work that way.”
It’s a posture lacking in subtlety. To hear the president tell it, in the real world – never mind those namby-pamby idealists with their heads in the clouds – this is how people actually behave. Politics can be a tough business, the argument goes, so candidates who want to win have to put aside concerns about niceties and legal limits.
If that means welcoming foreign interference in American elections, so be it. To deny this is to ignore the facts of how life “works.”
It’s an offensive and cynical approach for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the lesson learned from American history.
As regular readers may recall, Russia offered to help Adlai Stevenson win the White House in 1960. In fact, at the time, Russian officials held a meeting with the Illinois Democrat to offer Moscow’s assistance.
Stevenson refused, left the meeting, went home, and documented every detail he could remember. He then quickly went to the authorities, explaining that a foreign adversary had just tried to intervene in the American presidential election.
Eight years later, when Russia offered similar assistance to Hubert Humphrey, that didn’t go well for the USSR, either.
We can go back even further. Historian Michael Beschloss yesterday noted correspondence John Adams sent to Thomas Jefferson on December 6, 1787, about American elections, “You are apprehensive of foreign Interference, Intrigue, and Influence,” Adams wrote to his longtime rival. “So am I.”
We don’t have to speculate about how honorable Americans have traditionally responded to foreign efforts to interfere in our elections. We already know they responded appropriately.
Donald Trump would have us believe his cynical perspective is the realistic one, and when the pressure is on, pragmatists put aside principles in pursuit of power.
But we should only expect the worst from the worst.