DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Sounds like President Trump wants to meet with Vladimir Putin again. The White House says Trump is interested in inviting Russia's president to the United States. And amazingly, this was news to Dan Coats, a man who's in charge of knowing things. He's the president's own director of National Intelligence. He was in Colorado at the Aspen Security Forum, and the moderator told him about his boss's invitation to Putin.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DAN COATS: OK.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Yeah.
COATS: That's going to be special.
GREENE: So why does Trump seem to show so much deference to Russia's leader? It is a question that conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg has been wrestling with. He's the senior editor at National Review, and he joins us this morning. Hey there, Jonah.
JONAH GOLDBERG: Hey, it's great to be here.
GREENE: Well, it's good to have you as always. All right. So the deference that we seem to see from President Trump towards Vladimir Putin, especially in Helsinki earlier in the week. You wrote that Trump is still obsessed with not having his election victory in 2016 delegitimized. Can you draw this link for me?
GOLDBERG: Sure. I certainly think that part of what's going on is that whenever Donald Trump hears about Russian meddling his brain automatically goes to accusations of collusion, and he cannot disaggregate those things. And he thinks that whenever somebody brings up Russia, it is to delegitimize or belittle or diminish, you know, his great historic triumph, which was the greatest landslide in the electoral college except for like 28 others or something like that, you know.
GREENE: (Laughing) But, I mean, doesn't it remain an open question whether, you know, Russia interfered in the election, yes, but that they actually swayed the results? So doesn't that give him an opening to say without any doubt that there was interference here, but it's still an open question whether it helped him win?
GOLDBERG: Yeah. And there have been times - and the Trump administration is absolutely right about this. There have been times in the past where the president has acknowledged that Russia meddled. But those are times when he's basically been on message, had a piece of paper in front of him, knew what he wanted to say. When he goes back on sort of autopilot mode, he wants to turn everything into an attack on the Mueller probe. He wants to turn everything into a total dismissal of Russia.
And at the same time, he has a sort of Champ-Kind-to-Ron-Burgundy attachment to Vladimir Putin that is very strange. He also has a fondness for dictators in general, or at least strong men in general that, you know, when combined, create an awful lot of chaff in the air that makes it seem like there's something else going on there.
And there may be something else going on there, but I think the real issue here is that he feels very passionately that any talk of Russia is diminishing him and that he thinks - he has sort of locked into a lot of these 1980s understandings of geopolitics. And he thinks it would be worthwhile to be buddies with Russia on everything.
GREENE: So - but the buddy thing seems like it is personal in some ways. What is the personal fascination? I mean, you mentioned that people have these theories, this stuff, like some of his critics say maybe Russia has some dirt on him so he needs to be really nice to Putin. But are there other explanations?
GOLDBERG: Well, again, first of all, you know, people forget that he has said nice things about a whole host of dictators and strongmen, you know, from Erdogan and the president of the Philippines and so forth. So that's - I think that is part of it. Also, he has a lot of - he had a lot of business experience, made a lot of money working with Russia. He denies this, but it seems pretty obvious that that's true. And so he's always had a soft spot for the country.
Beyond that, you know, I mean, again we don't know that the collusion thing didn't happen. We have to wait for the Mueller probe. I'm not dismissing that out of hand. I just simply think that the way to understand Donald Trump's behavior on the world stage over the last 10 days is to say - is to understand that it's basically perfectly analogous to the way he has handled domestic politics, where he thinks all external constraints upon him are unfair and illegitimate, that he can on the fly rethink alliances, rethink the rules of the game in ways that are befuddling to a lot of people because he's not thinking a lot of these things through.
He's making it up as he goes along. And he thinks it's really important to be friendly with Vladimir Putin. He likes summits because he likes these pseudo-events where he's the center of attention. And it's maddening. And one of the things that really bothers me about all this is that - look, as important as the Mueller probe and all of these domestic squabbles and fights are, that's our business.
When you start openly questioning our commitment to Article 5 of NATO, when you start talking about how our alliances no longer serve us, this becomes extremely important. When the head of our National Intelligence services finds out that the president is going to meet again with Vladimir Putin in the White House on a panel in Aspen, this is not a sign that the grownups are running things.
GREENE: And we should say, I mean, a lot of Republicans - we don't have time to actually dig into this, maybe next time - but, I mean, polls suggest that a lot of Republicans in the country support what he has done this week, whatever it is. Jonah Goldberg of National Review, always great having you. Thanks, Jonah.
GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.