U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. 
Leah Millis/Reuters

Trump enjoys GOP backing over false Puerto Rico conspiracy theory


Even many observers who’ve come to expect the worst from Donald Trump were taken aback yesterday morning. The president, for reasons that remain elusive, announced that he not only rejects the official death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria, Trump also believes that the official estimate from independent researchers is the result of a conspiracy – launched by “the Democrats” to make him look “as bad as possible.”

The president finally found a victim from Hurricane Maria he feels deeply sorry for. Unfortunately, it’s himself.

Trump’s claims were ridiculously untrue, but he nevertheless kept the argument going on Twitter, promoting a missive from one of his conservative media allies, Lou Dobbs, who praised the president’s conspiracy theory, insisted that the death tolls in Puerto Rico “have been inflated,” and added a “Fake News” hashtag.

While this shed light on Trump’s character, I was especially eager to see the reactions from congressional Republicans. GOP officials and candidates in Florida were quick to distance themselves from the president’s nonsense, but as the Washington Post  reported, this wasn’t the consensus in Republican circles.

[T]he quick defense of Trump from Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) was more reflective of the consensus among House Republicans. “I understand the president’s frustration about what was essentially a well-done job is now drawing new complaints,” he said.

Another House Republican argued that the media historically has been biased in assessing blame for natural disasters and defended Bush’s handling of Katrina.

“They don’t ever say Republicans handle hurricanes as well as Democrats when you talk to the press,” Rep. Roger Williams (R-Tex.) said. “I was a Bush guy, and he got hammered for Katrina when he in many cases did the right thing.”

As best as I can tell, these guys weren’t kidding.

These defenses are as wrong as they bizarre. Nothing about the federal response in Puerto Rico was “well done,” and to believe George W. Bush “did the right thing” in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is to ignore the assessments of the Bush administration.

But the broader lesson here is that it’s well past time to give up on the idea that congressional Republicans, en masse, will ever give up on defending Trump. If they’ll defend the nonsense we saw yesterday, they’ll defend just about anything.