Resistance liberals loved calling Donald Trump a Russian asset. They clowned him as Vladimir Putin’s puppet, drew connections to dubious intelligence reports, and built entire fictions around the Mueller investigation. Many elected Democrats played along, too, eager to call out and investigate Trump’s potential Russian ties.
But it looks like that interest has faded.
Congressional Democrats say they’re no longer pursuing records from Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki in 2018. Trump tried desperately to conceal what happened during the meeting, which made it a big deal among those who thought him compromised. It was one of many smoking guns. But apparently Democrats no longer deem it worthy of investigating, in part because Trump, as New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski said, “is not shaping U.S. policy on Russia or anything else.” The announcement came ahead of President Joe Biden meeting with Putin in Geneva this week. The timing certainly wasn’t a coincidence. Still, the result makes Democrats look soft—not necessarily with Russia, but certainly with Trump.
It’s fair to say there’s nothing to gain from escalating tensions with Russia over this. The entire narrative around Trump being a Russia asset was specious at best. Still, it made ratings and played directly into Democrats broader message that Trump was terrible for the country. He did enough terrible shit on his own to warrant the amount of vitriol and public attention that came from the Mueller investigation and things like the Steele Dossier. It wasn’t necessary to pain Trump as a useful idiot, but they did, because it sold. Backing off on this now certainly makes it seem like the whole thing was a ruse to begin with, whether it actually was or not.
But letting this go just gives Trump another win over Democrats too hesitant to investigate him or any other Republicans. Dems have essentially been letting Trump off scot-free since they took back control of Congress. Some of that was out of their control—they couldn’t force Republicans to vote in favor of impeachment, for example. Still, a good deal of it is very much within their control, such as forming a committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. That’s something they can do without Republican support, but simply won’t. Their rationale for that is virtually the same they’re using to stop investigating the Trump-Putin meeting—Americans simply want to move on and “look forward not back,” sedition be damned.
The political strategy here is hard to extrapolate. Perhaps Democrats simply do want to focus on the present and future. There’s plenty of legislation in the works, after all—maybe putting this behind them will help. That’s hard to rationalize since the bipartisan hangups on infrastructure and other bills still exist, but it’s possible. Maybe Democrats hope that ignoring the potential misdeeds of a previous administration will make the next Republican president or Congress go easy on them. Again, absurdly naive, but possible. Whatever the rationale, though, the end result is painfully clear: Democrats are painfully soft on Trump.