President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Orlando Amphitheater at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, Dec. 16, 2016, in Orlando, Fla.
Photo by Evan Vucci/AP

If Trump isn’t Putin’s puppet, why does he act like he is?

Writing in Slate the other day, William Saletan expressed skepticism about some of the more provocative questions about Donald Trump and his relationship with Moscow. Saletan doesn’t believe the Republican “colluded” with Russia, for example, and is unmoved by the unverified dossier released last week.

But this incredulity left Saletan with a dilemma: if we reject the worst of the possible explanations for Trump’s behavior, what are we left with?
How do we explain the overtly pro-Russian behavior of Trump and his surrogates? If they’re not Russian puppets, why do they work so hard to defend Putin and Russia against American investigators and reporters? Why do they divert blame to other countries and victims of the hack? Why, instead of targeting the Russian intelligence agencies that infiltrated us, do they attack the American intelligence agencies that exposed the Russians?
Slate published this on Friday, and the questions have only grown more serious since.

Yesterday, for example, Trump sat down with two European newspapers for an interview in which he dismissed NATO as “obsolete”; criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel for assisting Syrian refugees (whom Trump referred to as “illegals”); said the United States “should be ready to trust” Russian President Vladimir Putin; and endorsed the further unraveling of the European Union.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but if the Kremlin had literally written a script and handed it to Trump to read during the interview, it would’ve sounded exactly like this.

For eight years, Republicans have accused President Obama of encouraging U.S. enemies and discouraging U.S. allies. America’s longtime friends, GOP politicians have said, are no longer sure they can count on support from the United States as a result of Obama’s foreign policy. The bizarre argument has always been wrong, but ironically, it’s poised to become true in the Republican administration that takes power on Friday.

For Team Trump, any suggestion that the president-elect is being blackmailed by Russia, that Putin has damaging dirt on Trump, or that Trump feels the need to pay Russia back for helping him win the presidency is outlandish and offensive. But what Trump’s aides and allies haven’t been able to explain is why in the world the incoming U.S. president keeps going out of his way to do precisely what Putin wants him to do.

No puppet, no puppet.