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The GOP once championed alliances and free trade. Why is it silent now?

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
Image: President Trump arrives in Singapore for US-North Korea Summit
President Donald Trump walks off Air Force One as he arrives in Singapore on Sunday.JIM LO SCALZO / EPA

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WASHINGTON — Remember when Republican leaders and prominent GOP politicians criticized an American president for alienating global allies? We sure do — during the Obama years.

  • "Name a country where the relationship is better since Barack Obama has come to office," Jeb Bush said in 2015. "Iran and Cuba? I rest my case."
  • “Instead of managing American decline, leaving allies to doubt us and adversaries to test us, we will act in the conviction that the United States is still the greatest force for peace and liberty that this world has ever known,” Paul Ryan said during his 2012 convention speech.
  • “President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus, even as he has relaxed sanctions on Castro's Cuba. He abandoned our friends in Poland by walking away from our missile defense commitments, but is eager to give Russia's President Putin the flexibility he desires, after the election. Under my administration, our friends will see more loyalty, and Mr. Putin will see a little less flexibility and more backbone,” Mitt Romney said in his 2012 convention speech.
  • “The past eight years gave witness to a serial degrading of our alliances and partnerships all across the globe,” Mitch McConnell said last year at the AIPAC conference.

But after a weekend when President Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “very dishonest and weak,” after he refused to sign the joint communique from the G-7 summit, and after a top Trump aide said “there’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door” — those same Republican leaders have been silent.

(What did Trudeau do, by the way, to earn that condemnation from Team Trump? He said that Canada would respond with reciprocal tariffs on the U.S. tariffs the Trump administration imposed on Canada — nothing he and his government haven’t said before, including on “Meet the Press” a week ago.)

The one exception to this GOP silence was Sen. John McCain, who tweeted: “To our allies: bipartisan majorities of Americans remain pro-free trade, pro-globalization & supportive of alliances based on 70 years of shared values. Americans stand with you, even if our president doesn’t.”

But other Republicans haven’t repeated that message, which is striking when free trade has been one of the GOP’s central tenets over the last few decades. And there’s only one explanation for that Republican silence: Trump has bullied the entire party into submission — well, at least those who will have to face voters again.

To understand why Trump lashed out at Trudeau, look no farther than how Trump has treated the American news media

Maybe the best way to understand why Trump criticized Trudeau – not to his face, but after he departed the G-7 — is to see how the president has treated the American news media.

Trump LOVES the media (he binges on cable TV, calls journalists, banters with reporters), but he also has done more to damage the institution than any other modern American president. Why? Because he can’t stand unfavorable coverage of him. The message he sends: He’ll be your friend/ally/advocate if you say nice things about him. But he’ll be your enemy/opponent/nightmare if you criticize him. And Trudeau criticized him.

And here’s how to make sense of Trump arguing that Russia should be readmitted to the club of world economic powers

By contrast, Vladimir Putin has mostly praised Trump. (“I have no disappointment at all,” Putin said earlier this year. “Moreover, on a personal level he made a very good impression on me.”)

And that praise has resulted in this kind of news:

“President Trump alienated the United States’ closest allies at the Group of Seven summit in Canada with his aggressive trade declarations and surprising suggestion that Russia be readmitted to the exclusive club of major economic powers,” the LA Times writes. “‘Something happened a while ago where Russia is no longer in. I think it would be an asset to have Russia back in,’ Trump told reporters Saturday. Russia was expelled from what at the time was the Group of Eight in 2014 after invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea. ‘Now, I love our country. I have been Russia’s worst nightmare,’ Trump said. ‘But with that being said, Russia should be in this meeting.’”

This is not normal. And Trump urging the world economic powers to invite Russia back (after it invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea) only makes it seem like he owes Putin something — something more than mere praise.

After Trump blew up the G-7, Kim now has all of the leverage

Foreign-policy expert Richard Haass says that Kim Jong Un has all of the leverage heading into the Singapore summit with Trump, because the U.S. president can’t afford to be seen as blowing up two back-to-back summits.

“The unraveling of G-7 summit works in NK’s favor as @realDonaldTrump will not want to bust up 2 summits in a row lest people conclude he is the problem. Increases incentive for Kim to up his asks and limit his compromises and for Trump to do the opposite. Hardly the ideal context,” Haass tweeted.

By the way, check out these fav/unfav scores in the NBC/WSJ poll:

  • Canada (Sept. 2016): 75 percent positive, 3 percent negative
  • Kim Jong Un (June 2018): 3 percent positive, 72 percent negative.

NBC/WSJ poll: Voters unsure what to expect from North Korea talks

“According to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, about a quarter of voters — 26 percent — think that Trump will demand too much in the negotiations and thus scuttle an agreement. An additional 10 percent say Trump will give up too much,” one of us writes. “A combined 31 percent of voters are more optimistic, saying either that the ultimate agreement will be fair to both sides (17 percent) or that Trump will secure a deal that is better for the United States than for the North Korean regime (14 percent).”

“Another 31 percent say they don’t know enough to voice an opinion.”

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell also has this analysis: “President Donald Trump says his approach to the high-stakes summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — which begins Tuesday on a secluded island resort in Singapore — is not about preparation. "It's about attitude," he said last week. He'll know in the ‘first minute’ if the North Koreans are serious about negotiating, he boasted on Saturday. ‘Just my touch, my feel,’ he said. ‘It's what I do.’” But former U.S. officials who've negotiated with the North Koreans say Trump will need a lot more than self-confidence in his own deal-making to avoid what could become dangerous mistakes. And even if Trump doesn't, there's no doubt that Kim Jong Un will be studying hard for a meeting the North Koreans have sought for 45 years.”

Here’s the “October Surprise” that everyone sees coming — health care

NBC’s Benjy Sarlin and Alex Seitz-Wald: “An array of state and national progressive groups are already laying the groundwork to attack Republicans for the expected premium increases. Democratic candidates are running ads on health care more than any other issue. And Senate Democrats recently announced plans to devote the month of August to a messaging campaign on health care costs… In focus groups and polls, Democrats are honing a message that they say will link health care problems to voter skepticism of private insurers, the Republican tax bill and donor influence on policies.”

But: “Obamacare critics believe they have a story to tell in response. The White House is working on new rules to expand short-term insurance and association plans that they say will offer cheaper alternatives for people priced out of Obamacare plans, albeit with fewer protections for consumers. Trump has taken to arguing that these changes, along with ending the individual mandate, show that his goal of repealing and replacing Obamacare is ‘getting done anyway.’”

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