Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting at the presidential palace in Ankara, Turkey, Nov. 24, 2015.
Photo by Kayhan Ozer/Pool/AP

Why is Trump celebrating Turkey’s democratic crisis?

During yesterday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about Turkey’s referendum, and allegations of election irregularities in a process that’s given Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers. Spicer was circumspect.

“My understanding is there’s an international commission that is reviewing this and issues a report in 10 to 12 days,” Spicer said. “And so we’ll wait and let them do their job.” Asked what Donald Trump would like to see Erdogan do, Spicer added, “I think we’d rather not get ahead of that report and start to make decisions without knowing. There were observers there, as there routinely are, and I’d rather wait and see.”

The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/17/17, 9:32 PM ET

Trump ignores oppression in congratulatory call to Erdogan

Joy-Ann Reid reports on the questions about the legitimacy of a Turkish referendum election and the authoritarian power grab seen in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s win, none of which stood in the way of Donald Trump making a congratulatory phone call.
A few hours later, Donald Trump decided not to wait and see.
President Trump called President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Monday to congratulate him on winning a much-disputed referendum that will cement his autocratic rule over the country and, in the view of many experts, erode Turkey’s democratic institutions.

Those concerns were not mentioned in a brief readout of the phone call that the White House released Monday night…. The statement did not say whether Mr. Trump had raised independent reports of voting irregularities during the Turkish referendum or the government’s heavy-handed tactics in the weeks leading up to it, when the country was under a state of emergency.
The U.S. president not only contradicted his own press secretary, Trump’s call also appears to be at odds with the statement on the Turkish referendum from the U.S. State Department.

Trump is now the only leader in the Western world to congratulate Erdogan on the election results, effectively endorsing the outcome and extending the imprimatur of the United States government on democracy’s slow demise in Turkey.

If there’s a compelling defense for this, it’s hiding well.

To be sure, the strength of Turkey’s democratic norms were already eroding, but the point of the referendum was to shift away from the country’s parliamentary system, putting even more authoritarian power into Erdogan’s hands. Questions about whether Erdogan’s government abused the process to ensure its preferred outcome remain unanswered.

The Turkish president, however, doesn’t care. A New York Times editorial said the referendum has left Turkey “in the hands of an erratic and vengeful man and the world wondering whether a nation that for decades has served as a crucial bridge between Europe and the Muslim world can possibly have a stable and prosperous future under someone with so little respect for democratic structures and values.”

There’s no great mystery about Trump’s motivations: the White House wants Turkey’s help in Syria. But the U.S. president didn’t have to go quite as far as he did in touting the results, which had the unfortunate effect of reminding the world of Trump’s affinity for authoritarian rulers.

Dan Drezner has talked about the tensions presidents face when weighing America’s values and America’s interests, and the awkward compromises that ensue. How much thought do you suppose went into Donald Trump’s deliberations on this?

Donald Trump, Foreign Policy and Turkey

Why is Trump celebrating Turkey's democratic crisis?