After the White House suggested yesterday it might revoke the security clearance of former national security officials who criticize the president, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was asked for his reaction this morning.
“I think he’s just trolling people, honestly,” Ryan said of Donald Trump.
It was a bit jarring hearing Congress’ most powerful Republican lawmaker refer to his party’s president this way, but Ryan had a point: Trump may not take governing especially seriously, but he excels in trying to get a rise out of people.
Indeed, the president soon after proved Ryan correct.
President Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday he was concerned about Moscow meddling in the upcoming election — to benefit Democrats — despite the president’s repeated statements casting doubt on Russian interference in U.S. elections and the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia helped him over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election,” the president said. “Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!”
Obviously, no sensible person could take such nonsense seriously. It was, after all, literally last week that Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly admitted that he wanted Trump to win. It came against a backdrop of Russian military intelligence officials getting indicted for their role in orchestrating an attack on the U.S. political system – all in order to help Republicans gain power.
For Trump to suggest he’s “very concerned” about Russian intervening again, this time to help Democrats, is plainly dumb. The president very likely knows this, which is why Paul Ryan’s assessment makes sense: “I think he’s just trolling people.”
But in this case, there’s a little more to it, because Trump isn’t just picking random issues out of the sky on which to troll people. On the contrary, the president is relying on one of his favorite go-to moves: projection.
We’ve been seeing a lot of this lately. When his political operation was accused of possibly having colluded with Russia during its 2016 attack, Trump responded by accusing Democrats of colluding with Russia during its 2016 attack. When the president acted as if he were an easily manipulated pawn for Putin, Trump responded by accusing Barack Obama of being Putin’s “patsy.”
Like an intemperate child, his I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I instincts are finely tuned after extensive practice.
Look no further than the 2016 campaign: whenever Hillary Clinton would criticize Trump, it was a near certainty that Trump would then made the identical accusation against Clinton. After a while, as regular readers may recall, this got a little creepy.
Clinton accused Trump of being unstable and reckless, so Trump said Clinton is “unstable” and “reckless.” Clinton said Trump mistreated women, so Trump said Clinton mistreated women. Clinton accused Trump of bigotry, so Trump said Clinton’s a “bigot.” Clinton questioned Trump’s temperament, so Trump said Clinton had a bad “temperament.” Clinton said Trump makes a poor role model for children, so Trump said Clinton sets “a terrible example for my son and the children in this country.”
And, of course, Clinton accused Trump of being a “puppet” for his allies in Moscow during a 2016 debate. Trump, showing all of the sophistication of a slow toddler, responded, “No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet. No, you’re the puppet.”
Trump is taking the next step in this pitiful pattern: applying this same instinct to foreign interference in the midterm elections.