WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump ends his 12-day Asia tour and arrives home around midnight Tuesday, when Air Force One is expected to touch down outside Washington — where a noxious brew of campaign dirt, bruised egos and beltway gridlock will greet him.
Trump already had begun his Asia trip when the Washington Post reported that Roy Moore, the Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, had partially disrobed and touched a 14-year-old girl in 1979.
On Saturday, press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “Like most Americans, the president believes that we cannot allow a mere allegation — in this case, one from many years ago — to destroy a person’s life. However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.”
Later, as Trump chatted with reporters on Air Force One, he said that for the moment he would stick with that statement, “but I’ll have further comment as we go down the road. I have to get back into the country to see what’s happening.”
On the ground, the GOP stampede away from Moore advanced Monday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that he believed Moore’s accusers and said Moore should “step aside” ahead of the Dec. 12 special election.
On Monday, a fifth woman came forward to accuse Moore of inappropriate behavior; the woman alleges that Moore groped and choked her when she was 16. By late afternoon, eight GOP senators had called on Moore to exit the race.
What will Trump do? “I would imagine he will stay out of it,” said Alice Stewart, a GOP strategist and CNN contributor. “I would imagine he will continue to say what he’s been saying. If he’s guilty of this, he will do the right things and step aside.”
Trump believes Putin
Trump also is returning after hours of cable news shows have dissected his comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
During the trip, Trump told reporters that he had asked Putin again about meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and Putin denied it. “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said.
Trump also said he thought Putin felt insulted by the allegation, which he called the result of Democratic pique. By name, Trump called out former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired, as he dismissed intelligence leaders as “political hacks.”
Critics slammed Trump for appearing overly credulous and taking Putin’s word over that of the U.S. intelligence community. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted, “Just when I think my capacity to be surprised has been exhausted, Pres Trump declares that he accepts Putin’s word (over CIA’s) that he never interfered in our election & worries the Russian leader feels insulted by charge to contrary.”
Trump argued there was much more at stake than the feelings of former intelligence chiefs. “We have a big problem with North Korea. And China is helping us. And because of the lack of a relationship that we have with Russia because of this artificial thing that’s happening with this Democratic-inspired thing, we could really be helped a lot, tremendously, with Russia having to do with North Korea.”
Millions of lives hang in the balance, Trump cautioned: “This isn’t baby stuff. This is the real deal. And if Russia helped us, in addition to China, that problem would go away a lot faster.”
‘The Trump of the East’
During the last leg of his Asian trek, Trump spoke with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a former prosecutor under whose rule Manila’s war on drugs has taken thousands of lives.
“The conversation focused on ISIS, illegal drugs and trade,” Sanders told reporters. “Human rights briefly came up in the context of the Phillippines’ fight against illegal drugs.”
Duterte spokesman Harry Roque told CNN that human rights did not come up.
Duterte, who is known as “The Trump of the East,” sang a love song to the American president. When Duterte joked about American journalists being “spies,” Trump laughed. To his many critics, Trump seemed overly pleased with the fellow big-shot rapport he enjoyed with another world leader.
Brennan summed up the establishment complaint with Trump when he told CNN, “Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders” who stroke his ego and play to his “insecurities.”
“I just thought that was fatuous,” Heritage Foundation foreign policy expert James Carafano countered. “It’s obvious that Trump enjoys pomp and circumstance. Look at any of his buildings and architecture, his whole life. But if you could seduce him with bright, shiny objects, he never would have been a successful businessman.”
Perhaps Trump’s greatest diplomatic challenge lies with Congress. Trump returns to two Republican tax cut bills — one from the House, the other from the Senate. He has said he wants to sign a tax-cut measure, his top legislative priority, before the end of the year.
The Moore controversy underscores Trump’s sense of urgency. With 52 Republicans in the Senate, the GOP needs every vote available to push a tax bill through the Senate, a bar Senate Republicans could not clear when they tried to pass a measure to repeal or repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Contact Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.