Post-Helsinki, the base is still with the president

  • 17 July 2018
  • NormanL

The fallout from the president's meeting with Vladimir Putin continues. We'll leave the numerous and complicated foreign policy implications to others -- it's the domestic repercussions that interest us. And specifically, we wonder what, if anything, the Helsinki meeting might mean for the president's support among his base voters. 

We suspect some are not happy Others don't care. But overall, whatever happened in Finland doesn't seem to change the White House's political fortunes:

Terry Roland, a longtime Republican activist who volunteered for Donald Trump’s campaign in west Tennessee, knows Washington’s chattering class is criticizing the president’s decision to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. But he dismisses the disapproval.

“It doesn’t make any difference what the president does, they ain’t gonna like,” said Roland, 57, a member of the Shelby County, Tenn. Board of Commissioners. “But it’s a good thing they (Trump and Putin) have dialogue. They should be able to talk. You don’t get anywhere without talking.”

The face-to-face meeting between Trump and Putin Monday in Helskinki, Finland, may be controversial to some but not the voters who elected him.

They say they admire Trump for what they think will be his strategy to show Putin he’s the boss in their relationship. They praise him for a successful meeting with another autocratic leader, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. And they believe Trump has been hurt by the slow and ongoing investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“We should be reaching out to other countries,” said Mark Anthony Jones, a Trump supporter in the Kansas City area and chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party in Missouri. “What could come out of this is the world sees a working relationship between two major countries and leaders. Why can’t we work together on some problems?”

Trump flew to Helsinki Sunday as the last stop of a week-long trip to Europe — following a NATO meeting in Brussels and a visit to the United Kingdom — in which he espoused the “America First” foreign policy strategy his supporters admire.

And for the people who supported Trump in 2016, and do so today, that's what matters most. He's done nothing that wasn't telegraphed during the 2016 election -- voters knew (because he told them, many times) exactly where he wanted to go. There may indeed be serious, long term problems arising out of the Helsinki meeting. But his base is more concerned about America First than the niceties, norms, and institutional frameworks of the post-World War II order.