As he flew home from Helsinki on Air Force One following his disastrous press conference with Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump reacted with surprise at the horror and outrage that was being expressed by much of the American political world. By the time he landed, the surprise had turned to anger. “He was enraged there was a lack of people out there defending him,” one Republican close to the White House told me. The mood among West Wing advisers was downright funereal. “This was the nightmare scenario,” another Republican in frequent contact with the administration said.
Trump had weathered epic crises of his own making before, from the Access Hollywood tape to Charlottesville to “shithole countries.” Each time he survived withering criticism by doubling down and counterattacking. But as he woke up Tuesday morning, Trump had to recognize that his embrace of Putin on the world stage was a crisis of a different magnitude, and he personally stepped in to try to manage the fallout.
To those who know Trump best, the 24-hour reversal is a sign that he’s unnerved by the intensity of the backlash he provoked. “The president sent a very clear message [that] his worldview is in sync with his base and members of his party,” former Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller told me. “Any of these other kerfuffles, if he had addressed it the next day, we wouldn’t have had that many days of things like s-hole countries.”
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