Trump, the G7 and the perception of being Putin’s puppet

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump attend a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan June 28, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC187F8F9730

The G7 summit ended in France with some alarming words from President Trump. Mr. Trump suggested that next year’s summit in the United States should be held at his own resort, the Trump National Doral Miami, and that he “would certainly” invite Vladimir Putin as a special guest to the summit that the Russian dictator was summarily removed from after his illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Some will argue about the policy pros and cons of having Putin in the room, rather than keeping him at arm’s length. However, the policy debate aside, the optics of inviting Putin to the G7 and hosting the conference at a location that personally lines the president’s pockets is a political disaster.

Inviting Putin to see his attack on America up close

The next G7 will take place right around the time of the national party conventions where Mr. Trump will likely accept his party’s renomination for president and the Democratic Party will select its nominee to take on Mr. Trump in the fall election. Part of the debate in the 2020 race will be the security of America’s elections, the Russians’ attack on the 2016 elections, and Putin’s ongoing cyberattack and interference in the 2020 elections. If President Trump invites Putin to Doral, he will serve Democrats a political attack on a huge silver platter.

It will take no time for the Democratic nominee and his or her surrogates to cut political ads and shout on every cable news station Hillary Clinton’s line that rang hollow in the 2016 presidential debates: that Putin would “rather have a puppet as president….spout the Putin line…sign for his wishlist.” And that G7 will offer photo ops of Mr. Trump beaming as he sits beside the Russian dictator on American soil. While Republican voters will scoff at such attacks, it is not Republican voters Mr. Trump must worry about. Moderate voters may be put off by rolling out the red carpet for a man actively attacking the U.S.

Even beyond the optics of this event, the choice to invite Mr. Putin to Florida a mere weeks before Americans go to the polls to select a president is politically baffling. The FBI has stated that in 2016 Russia hacked into at least two Florida county election systems during the presidential campaign. And given the continued importance of Florida in presidential elections, you can bet that the Russians will try to hack into Florida’s election systems again next year.

President Trump’s suggested invitation to Putin for next year’s G7 is not simply an opportunity for the Russian dictator to discuss world economic policy. That invitation will give him a front-row seat to see his attack on America and its democracy. He will enjoy a luxury resort experience just down the street from county offices that Russians are actively attacking. And while America has been attacked many times, by traditional means and via technology, American presidents have never allowed the masterminds of those attacks the benefit of viewing their dirty work from American soil. Next year’s G7 may surrender that norm.

Mr. Trump may relish the idea of cozying up with the Russian dictator, but other G7 leaders and most importantly swing voters in the United States will likely find it distasteful and a disastrous foreign policy decision. And Democrats will jump at the opportunity to suggest to voters that President Trump and his co-partisans have contempt for the integrity of American democracy.

Doral and the self-dealing of the 2020 G7

In France, Mr. Trump closed the G7 by providing an infomercial for the value of his hotel and resort at Doral, as he suggested siting the next summit there. This choice has outraged Democrats and even conservative Republicans like Rick Santorum among others. To locate a G7 summit that brings world leaders, their massive staff and security personnel to a resort the president owns is a clear means of enriching Mr. Trump. In fact, it was reported earlier in 2019 that over the past few years, Mr. Trump’s Doral property aw significant reductions in revenue—a trend that a massive, world summit could help turn around, even if temporarily.

Allegations of corruption, self-dealing, and other ethical violations have plagued not just the president, but White House staffers, cabinet secretaries, agency heads and others since Mr. Trump took office. And while some of those behaviors are difficult to sort out and the details are complex, Mr. Trump has maintained that his presidency has actively “drained the swamp.” However, as the president closes out his reelection campaign in the late summer and early fall of 2020, the optics of enriching himself by virtue of selecting the site of the G7 is easy for the average American voter to understand and have contempt for.

Once again, the politics and optics of hosting the G7 at a Trump resort is puzzling and will offer Democrats a bounty with which to attack the president. Every Republican running for the House or Senate will be asked about the appropriateness of the president financially benefitting from hosting the summit, attack ads will suggest the president is filling the swamp rather than draining it, and if the unfortunate happens and America is suffering from a recession, the president’s choice would be even more significantly tone-deaf.

The 2020 G7 provides the president something his Democratic opponent will not have—round-the-clock coverage of his power and strength as he mingles with the world’s most powerful leaders. The backdrop of a G7 hosted in the United States months before a presidential election is a political gift, wrapped with a big bow. However, Mr. Trump’s choices over the location and the guest list could do the unthinkable: turn the G7 into the best thing a Democratic nominee could ask for.