Op-Ed: Trump just yanked the Russia card right out of Democrats’ hands
What a difference 24 hours and 59 Tomahawk missiles can make.
Yesterday if you mentioned the words "Russia and Trump," you were probably having a conversation about the enduring allegations that the Russians somehow colluded with the Trump campaign and that they somehow tipped the 2016 election.
But now those words are likely a part of a conversation about how President Donald Trump broke with Russia in his decision to respond to the alleged Syrian nerve gas assault on its own people with Thursday night's missile strike.
That's a dramatic flipping of the script in Washington, Moscow, and beyond. It's not exactly an example of a totally negative story turning into a totally positive one for President Trump, but it's close. Because from now on, the narrative that the president is some kind of puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin is going to be much harder to promote. An independent President Trump is harder to completely tear down than a man supposedly being remote-controlled by the Kremlin... no matter what he does.
Instead, those who just want to criticize President Trump and a good number of honestly concerned Americans will now be focused on wondering if pushing back on President Bashar Assad in Syria was worth antagonizing Syria's Russian protectors. That's a much healthier debate because it's almost entirely based in known factual information and not shrouded in mysterious conspiracy theories and innuendo. For example, we still don't know if Russia's public opposition to the attacks is 100 percent honest or just for show, but we do know that the U.S. did inform the Putin regime before launching the attacks. And Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Friday morning that the missile strikes came "within an inch of militarily clashing with Russia." But he ended it there. Medvedev is thus playing the role of the angry uncle many of us have who swears that if his rival had "said ONE MORE WORD, he would have really done something!" In other words, the Russians are folding... for now.
This attack also suddenly puts the Trump team into a more traditional and accepted role for a presidential administration. Almost every president has been involved in ordering some kind of military action, and there's a long tradition of presidents gaining a natural degree of added public support as commander-in-chief when our troops are put into harm's way. Some of that added support has eroded over time, thanks to residual public resentment over the Iraq War, but it still exists. It also seems to be making this president act more presidential, as he gave a heartfelt address to the nation last night instead of tweeting. In fact, he didn't tweet about the attack at all the night of the missile launch or even the morning after.
And that's not the only part of the script that's flipped so suddenly. Because guess who is a de facto supporter of President Trump's decision now? The answer is none other than Hillary Clinton , who called for just this kind of strike on Syrian air bases just hours before they occurred. "I really believe we should have and still should take out his air fields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them," Clinton said on Thursday afternoon. That's a case of strange bedfellows not many people could have predicted.
Again don't be fooled, President Trump's opponents are still angry as ever and many of them will use this missile attack to form a new series of political attacks against him. But now they have to start over and their range of attack has been significantly narrowed. In fact, in light of President Trump's clear challenge to the Russians, a good case can be made to end the House Intelligence Committee's hearings and ranking member Adam Schiff's crusade to uncover some kind of Trump-Russian grand conspiracy. Something else will catch the Democrats' anti-Trump fancy to be sure, but it will have to be something else.
That "something else" will likely be a continued rehashing of then-private citizen Trump using Twitter and other venues to warn against attacks on Syria and more wars in the Middle East. But we've seen that kind of tactic before used against presidents in the past. The "Trump is a Russian-controlled stooge" was different and unique, especially since concerns over its possible veracity made it all the way to the level of a congressional investigation. So, while we're not flipping the script from nasty to nice, we are getting more into the realm of political normalcy.
Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.
For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.
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