There's an expression in Trump World that the president and his allies are fond of: if you attack Donald Trump, he will punch back 10 times harder. It's a maxim that helps explain why the president tends to get a little hysterical in response to so many perceived slights.
But for Trump, the principle applies only to him personally: the president can't tolerate rebukes that target him, but affronts to the United States, in Trump's mind, are surprisingly acceptable.
Two weeks ago, in response to new economic sanctions approved by Congress, Vladimir Putin's Russian government announced it was expelling 755 people from the American embassy and consulate staff. It was a striking diplomatic move, and an escalation of tensions between the two countries, which seemed to warrant a stern White House response.
Trump, however, remained silent -- until yesterday.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you have any response to the Russian president expelling 755 workers from our embassy in Russia?
TRUMP: No, I want to thank [Putin], because we're trying to cut down on payroll. And as far as I'm concerned, I'm very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll. There's no real reason for them to go back. So, I greatly appreciate the fact that they've been able to cut our payroll for the United States. We'll save a lot of money.
To the extent that reality has any meaning, Trump is badly confused about the relevant details. Putin did not "let go" of hundreds of American diplomatic workers -- these U.S. officials have been stationed in Russia, but they were not employees of the Russian government.
The substance of the president's comments are, by fair measure, total nonsense.
But that's really not what's important here. Rather, this is a dynamic in which the Putin government used harsh diplomatic measures to slap the United States in the face, and after two weeks of thought, the American president expressed his gratitude to the Russian government.
Even the most mindless Republican partisans should find this impossible to defend.