At the start of the weekend, President Trump was buoyant, exulting that Robert Mueller’s latest round of indictments had not shown any evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. (Never mind that the troll-farm attacks are just one of several spheres Mueller is investigating, and that far more evidence to suggest collusion has turned up in others.)
But by the mid-weekend, the president’s mood had soured, as it became clear to him that the prevailed narrative from the indictment was the “incontrovertible” proof—to use National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s word—of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Nothing sets Trump off quite as consistently as any suggestion of anything that might undermine the legitimacy of his victory.
As I wrote on Sunday, this defensiveness usually backfires. By refusing to even acknowledge the Russian interference, Trump only calls attention to himself, and makes his reaction seem suspect. The president is making another point here, though, too: What about Obama?
First there was this, on Monday:
Obama was President up to, and beyond, the 2016 Election. So why didn’t he do something about Russian meddling?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 19, 2018
Then on Tuesday morning, he quoted something the president said in fall 2016:
“There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America’s elections, there’s no evidence that that has happened in the past or that it will happen this time, and so I’d invite Mr. Trump to stop whining and make his case to get votes.” .....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2018
....The President Obama quote just before election. That’s because he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win and he didn’t want to “rock the boat.” When I easily won the Electoral College, the whole game changed and the Russian excuse became the narrative of the Dems.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2018
Trump loves to indulge in whataboutism, and typically it misses the point. What is interesting here is that Trump seems to be laying claim to the same argument that his predecessor did. Obama and his administration (with some dissent) opted to minimize public statements about Russian interference, fearing it would only exacerbate its effects. They also worried about casting doubt on the legitimacy of the balloting, especially since Trump was out warning that the election was rigged. Given that, former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in 2017, “We were concerned that by making the statement we might, in and of itself, be challenging the integrity of the election process itself.”