The Helsinki Firestorm and New Jersey Campaign 2018

Former EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg questions whether any member of the NJ GOP will denounce the racism in President Donald Trump's tweet stating that four newly elected Congresswomen should “go back where they came from.”

“There is overwhelming evidence that our president, for the first time in our history, is deliberately or through gross negligence or because of his own twisted personality engaged in treasonous behavior — behavior that violates his oath of office to “ ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’ ”

“Trump vacated that oath today, and Republicans can no longer run and hide from that fact. Every single Republican lawmaker will be — and should be — asked on the election trail: Are you with Trump and Putin or are you with the C.I.A., F.B.I. and N.S.A.?”

-Thomas Friedman, New York Times

The above two paragraphs succinctly describe the legal and political fallout from yesterday’s summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland between United States President Donald Trump and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. To paraphrase Franklin D. Roosevelt, yesterday was a day of disgrace for the American presidency which will live in infamy as the Helsinki Firestorm.

The critical event of the day was Donald Trump’s repudiation of the findings of America’s law enforcement and intelligence communities that Russia had launched a cyber-attack against the United States and other activities designed to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton and win the 2016 presidential election. Instead, Trump accepted and supported the assertions of Russian President Vladimir Putin that his nation had not engaged in this attack against the United States.

Prior to the Helsinki Firestorm, the focus of the probe of Independent Counsel Robert Mueller had been whether Trump had committed high crimes or misdemeanors by 1) obstructing justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey or 2) engaged in conspiratorial activities with Russian officials on behalf of his presidential campaign. After the Helsinki Firestorm, however, he faces the possibility of a far more serious charge of treason, an enumerated impeachable offense in the Constitution.

In Constitutional jurisprudence, treason is normally defined as providing aid and comfort to an enemy nation. Trump’s support of Putin against the findings of our own intelligence agencies and his refusal to defend the United States in this struggle against the Russian Federation clearly give rise to a prima facie case of treason against Donald Trump, President of the United States.

Trump’s treasonous activities disgrace the office of the presidency far worse than any action of Richard Nixon. Yet despite the existence of the prima facie treason case against him, the Congress would normally be reluctant to impeach a president on this ground. It is a most grave matter to accuse a president of treason.

Unfortunately for Trump, there is a serious political imperative that could compel the Congress after the midterm election to proceed against Trump on the basis of treason. That political imperative is the rapidly growing suspicion in the intelligence community that Trump has gone out of his way to ingratiate himself with Putin because of some personal factor giving the Russian president blackmail leverage over him. If that is the case, then Trump has become a Russian intelligence asset.

The renowned presidential historian Michael Beschloss notes that these circumstances give rise to an unprecedented Constitutional crisis. As Beschloss stated, “This is a president who demonstrated he deserves suspicion as acting on behalf of another country other than his own.”

This has elevated the current scandal to far more than a Constitutional crisis involving a perception that a president has engaged in legal misfeasance and/or malfeasance. We now have a national security crisis, where the public no longer feels confident in entrusting their national security to a president they perceive as being a Russian intelligence asset. One could perceive this loss of confidence last night in front of the White House, where demonstrators shouted “puppet”, signifying their belief that Donald Trump was now a puppet of America’s arch-enemy, Vladimir Putin.

Trump has disgraced the presidency before, as he did with the white nationalist bigot march in Charlottesville, Virginia last year, when he claimed that this march, with its shouts of the Nazi slogans of “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” included participants who were “good people.” This was a clear dog whistle to his white bigot supporters. His treasonous activities yesterday, however, were his most disgraceful yet.

Unlike previous Trumpian outrages, this prompted a massive backlash of criticism from Republicans. Even Trump’s ally, Newt Gingrich stated, “It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—-immediately.” The overall Republican reaction was best typified by the reaction of dying Senator and American war hero John McCain, who termed Trump’s Helsinki debacle as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

In the coming week, there will be intense focus on how the Helsinki Firestorm will affect the November 2018 midterm Congressional elections. The Real Clear Politics polling averages already reflect that nationally, the Republicans face the extremely likely possibility of the loss of the House of Representatives. Trump’s disapproval rating is ten points higher than his approval rating, and the Democrats lead the Republicans in the generic ballot by eight points.

In the aftermath of the Helsinki Firestorm, Democratic capture of control of the US House of Representatives is now a certainty and the likelihood of Democratic capture of control of the US Senate is an increasing possibility. The question for New Jersey politics is one of how many of the five House seats currently controlled by the Republicans will be lost to the Democrats.

Democrat Jeff Van Drew is certain to capture the House seat presently held by Republican Frank LoBiondo, and Mikie Sherrill is most likely to defeat Republican Jay Webber for the House seat held by retiring Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen. Republican incumbent Chris Smith does not face a significant challenge for his seat.

Accordingly, the question in New Jersey is one of the possible effect of the Helsinki Firestorm on the reelection chances of Representatives Tom MacArthur and Leonard Lance. They face significant challenges from two highly funded progressive Democrats, Andy Kim and Tom Malinowski, respectively. Both Democrats maintain close connections to the Ultra-Left sector of the Democratic Party. This increases their vulnerability. Normally, MacArthur and Lance would be heavily favored. Unfortunately, MacArthur and Lance have to carry the albatross of Donald Trump, post-Helsinki.

In their favor, both Lance and MacArthur have a record of effectively distancing themselves from Donald Trump. They both condemned Trump’s cruel and inhumane Zero Tolerance immigration policy. Immediately after Trump’s political embrace yesterday of Putin, they both issued statements repudiating Trump’s contemptible embrace of Putin and his fascist regime.

Ironically, there is one aspect of Trump’s disastrous trip to NATO and the UK that may benefit MacArthur and Lance. On that mission, Trump inflicted major damage to our British and European allies, while later engaging in shameful appeasement of Putin and Russia. As a result, this November, there will be increased focus on how incumbent members of Congress relate to traditional American allies.

This plays to the strength of Tom MacArthur and Leonard Lance. Both are among the most stalwart allies of Israel in the Congress.

This contrasts sharply with Kim and Malinowski. Both are endorsed by J Street, a Jewish organization that constitutes the appeasement lobby of the American Jewish community. A J Street endorsement is widely viewed with dismay among mainstream American Jewish and pro-Israel organizations. Indeed, J Street is the modern equivalent of The Cliveden Set, the British coterie that favored appeasement of Germany before World War 2.

Donald Trump will be a huge negative for Republican Congressional incumbents in the midterm election. Tom MacArthur and Leonard Lance, however, with their demonstrated independence from the Donald, are well-equipped to overcome the Trump albatross.

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.

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One response to “The Helsinki Firestorm and New Jersey Campaign 2018”

  1. amusing how Steinberg will twist anything for a pro-GOP tilt. Lance and MacArthur have yet to actually DO anything to show their opposition to Trump. Talk and tweets are cheap.

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