The failure of Republicans to publicly criticise Donald Trump over his performance alongside Vladimir Putin in Helsinki – something many are said to be furious about – has been described as an example of the president’s “mind control superpower” over his party.
Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress were deeply angered by Mr Trump’s refusal to press Mr Putin on Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 US election and by their president’s undermining of his intelligence services. Yet, with the exception of critics such as senators John McCain, who has cancer, and Jeff Flake, who is leaving Capitol Hill, few spoke out.
A report by the Axios website said the Republicans’ collective silence was the result of the realisation they need Mr Trump’s backing, and the votes of his supporters, if they are to avoid primary challenges and win re-election in November.
I’m furious R’s are cowardly about Trump. But here is what they say in private: 1.) Trump is a disgrace. 2.) I give fiery press conf tmmrw saying that. 3.) Nothing changes, Trump remains nuts and remains POTUS. 4.) A nut beats me in next primary. So how does my pol suicide help? https://t.co/ZitCfRogHd— Mike Murphy (@murphymike) July 17, 2018
“Yes, almost every elected Republican we talk to privately thinks President Trump’s warm embrace of Vladimir Putin was unexplainable, unacceptable and un-American,” wrote Michael Allen, the website’s executive editor.
“Yes they wish they could say this publicly. No they won’t – not now, and probably never.”
He added: “The cold, hard reason: They see no upside in speaking out – and fear political suicide if they do.”
While Mr Trump has a national approval rating of 43 per cent – with 52 per cent disapproving of him, according to the most recent data by Gallup – the same polls found that among Republicans, his approval rating was 90 per cent. Among registered independents, it was 38 per cent and among Democrats it was just 8 per cent.
This division was underscored by another poll, by Reuters, which found 55 per cent of registered voters disapproved of Mr Trump’s handling of Monday’s summit in Helsinki with 37 per cent approving. However among Republicans, the approval rating jumped to 71 per cent.
Another poll, also by Reuters, reported only 32 per cent of Republicans believe Russia meddled in the US election.
Cheri Jacobus, a DC-based political strategist, said she believed many Republicans were like “deer caught in the headlights”, as special counsel Robert Mueller continued his probe into alleged interference by Russia and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
“I don’t think they will pivot away from Trump until they fear Robert Mueller more than they fear Trump,” she told The Independent. “The Republicans in congress do not care about right or wrong.”
Mr Trump returned from Helsinki to learn many senior Republicans were privately aghast at what he has said about his nation’s intelligence services, and his apparent willingness to accept Mr Putin’s denial of election meddling.
On Tuesday, he sought to smooth over the matter, telling reporters ahead of a cabinet meeting he had “misspoke” in Helsinki, a claim that raised eyebrows among commentators.
“In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’,” the president said. “The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia’. Sort of a double negative.”
Embellishing his written notes, Mr Trump added: “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. It could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”
Christy Setzer, a progressive communications expert who works in the capital, said she had expected to see Mr Trump return to the White House and fire somebody in his inner circle “because those are the childish actions we’ve come to expect when our toddler-president is angry”.
Asked how the president should try and repair any damage done in Finland, she said: “Meeting with every member of his national security team about anticipated fallout on the international stage. Reassuring global allies of his commitment to NATO, to the G7, to international law. Working with the Defence Department and Homeland Security to ensure measures are taken to protect our November elections from Russian interference.”
She added: “But come on, give me a break – he won’t do any of that.”