Donald Trump is lucky that the President and Vice President made such good speeches at the Democratic convention on Wednesday night, because those speeches drew attention away from Trump's most recent and most significant campaign blunder. Blunder is not the correct word, efforts to imperil national security does not have much of a ring to it, but it is a better description of what Trump did on Wednesday morning when in a typically Trumpian incoherent, meandering and self aggrandizing press conference, the GOP standard bearer said, "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing, I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."
It is likely that was not a premeditated comment by Trump, but rather an idea that came to him while he was speaking. The provenance of that comment doesn't matter. The reality is that the Republican nominee for President urged a belligerent foreign power to meddle further in our political processes, and to more aggressively spy on American institutions and private citizens. It is also evidence that for Trump, anything including our national security, is secondary to his political ambitions.
Even before Wednesday's comment, and indeed even before the leaked DNC emails, the connection between Trump and Russia was troubling, or at least very noteworthy. Trump's top advisor, Paul Manafort has worked in the former Soviet Union, most significantly as an advisor to the former President of Ukraine, and Russian client, Viktor Yanukovych. Other Trump advisors including Carter Page also have ties to Moscow. Trump himself has described Russia's President as somebody with whom he can get along. Trump's statements about revisiting the US role in NATO, while not necessarily intended to make Russia happy, dovetail very clearly with Moscow's interests. Russian colleagues have told me that Vladimir Putin has made no secret that he would like to see Trump nominated. Having an opinion about Russia that is different than that of most of the foreign policy community, and even advisors with relationships with the Russian government, is ok. Trump is, of course, permitted his views; and elections where candidates present different views on key issues is good for democracy.
What Trump did on Wednesday, however, went way beyond simply having a different view about US-Russia relations. It demonstrated that Trump either does not understand basic ideas about national sovereignty and national security, or more ominously, suggests a relationship between a political candidate and a foreign power that is at the very least clear and present threat to our political processes.
If we have learned anything by Donald Trump's campaign over the last 13 months or so, it is is not to be surprised by anything the real estate heir says. While yesterday's comments should be seen in that light, the relative silence from Republican leaders regarding Trump's comments is different. Some in the foreign policy community, from both sides of the aisle, have expressed their concern about Trump's statements, and but Republican elected officials have remained more or less silent on Trump's comments.
The silence by the GOP has demonstrated that the Republican Party has either been completely overtaken by Trump or that the GOP leadership sees defeating Hillary Clinton as more important than even our national security. This is particularly galling given that for decades the Republican Party has presented themselves to the American people as the party of national security. They were the ones who piously lectured Americans about the need to put national security above partisan politics, who sought to define themselves as the party of patriotism and who always told us that partisanship ended at America's borders and shoreline, more frequently than not as part of an effort to stifle dissent surrounding a controversial war or foreign policy gambit. Now, during what is the most significant campaign related national security crisis in many decades, if not ever, they are silent, preferring either to pretend their candidate did not say what he did, chalk it up to his generally erratic behavior, or ignore it because they want to beat Hillary Clinton more than anything else.
For Republican elected officials, particularly those who view themselves as foreign policy experts who have a hawkish concern for American national security, the choice should be easy-denounce Donald Trump as a threat to national security and unfit to lead their party. Doing that will lead to an unpleasant battle with Trump, primarily on Twitter, the medium Trump has mastered best, but it is also an opportunity for them to demonstrate that for them national security indeed transcends partisanship. Those Republicans who prefer to be silent hoping that Putin does not take Trump up on his invitation, may contribute to defeating Clinton, but they also will have forfeited their right to ever tell the American people anything about national security and will have demonstrated that despite their tough talk, it is partisanship not concerns about national security that is behind their bluster.