GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, whose eventual electoral domestication seems to be forever around the next corner, pivoted back in the direction of the surreal and reprehensible Wednesday morning at a press conference in Doral, Florida. And once again, Trump is taking fire from fellow Republicans in a way that shatters all precedent, as disaffected conservatives receive one more sign that their party’s nominee is catastrophically unfit for office.
Trump managed to reinflame his antagonists throughout his press conference, where ― among sundry bewilderments ― he at one point seemed to confuse Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine with former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean.
But if any of his various statements at the press conference really stood out, it was probably the part where he called for state-sponsored Russian hackers to conduct cyber espionage on the United States for his electoral benefit. (Security experts have found evidence that Russia was involved in the hack, and subsequent leak, of a cache of Democratic National Committee emails, which has cast a shadow over the Democrats’ convention in Philadelphia this week.)
Referring to the 33,000 emails deleted from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server, he addressed Russia like so: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
And lest you think this was uttered in jest, he later reiterated the sentiment on Twitter:
The immediate impact of Trump’s statements ― besides perhaps some hasty revisions to forthcoming speeches at the Democratic National Convention, accepting this fresh anti-Trump ammunition as an unexpected gift ― came in the form of a gobsmacked press, swift condemnation from the Clinton campaign, and the briefest of statements from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s spokesman, who wrote, “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election.”
Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, released a statement soon after that seemed to attempt to steer the campaign back upon saner streets: “The FBI will get to the bottom of who is behind the hacking [of the DNC’s emails]. If it is Russia and they are interfering in our elections, I can assure you both parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences.”
However, John Harwood reported that Pence’s statement, which appeared to contradict Trump’s request to Russia, was drafted before Trump made the appeal, thus undermining all this talk of “serious consequences.”
But Republican officials and pundits living outside the Trump campaign and the legislative chambers were far less muted in their opprobrium. As Politico’s Nahal Toosi reported, at least one was more than willing to use the “T”-word:
William Inboden, who served on the NSC during the George W. Bush administration, said Trump’s comments were “tantamount to treason.”
“Trump’s appeal for a foreign government hostile to the United States to manipulate our electoral process is not an assault on Hillary Clinton, it is an assault on the Constitution,” said Inboden, who now teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.
Inboden was hardly alone in registering his disgust with Trump. GOP strategist Stuart Stevens, who advised Mitt Romney, the party’s nominee in 2012, suggested that Trump’s remarks would have merited an immediate court-martial if they’d been made by anyone answering to the commander in chief:
And The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost laid his thoughts bare on Twitter, calling out Trump’s enablers along the way.
Michael Vickers ― who served in the Defense Department under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, eventually attaining the post of Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence ― took to Politico Magazine after the press conference to argue that the national security policy of a future Trump White House is already substantially degraded, thanks to the GOP nominee’s constant displays of ignorance and brashness:
Even more worrisome, Trump has so alienated Republican national security professionals that he will likely have great difficulty attracting top advisers to staff his administration were he to be elected. Presidents cannot make effective national security policy by themselves. The experience and judgment of their advisers is strongly correlated to their national security success.
“We need an experienced and steady hand to guide us through the current challenges to American leadership and world order,” Vickers wrote.
“Only one candidate in this presidential race can supply that,” he concluded. Hint: It’s the Democratic nominee.
Clinton’s relative experience and steadiness is something that Democrats have already worked to emphasize at the convention. They’re also hoping to play up the extent to which Republican foreign policy officials and conservative writers echo the kinds of remarks that Trump’s press conference elicited over the course of the day. This video, produced by the Democratic National Convention, highlights all of this:
The only problem is that this was obviously produced before Trump invited the Russians to engage in cyber espionage. But that’s nothing a little editing can’t fix.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims ― 1.6 billion members of an entire religion ― from entering the U.S.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.