In an op-ed for The San Diego Union-Tribune, Christine Todd Whitman, the former Governor of New Jersey who later served as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush, called on President Donald Trump to resign after his "disgraceful" performance during last week's press conference in Helsinki. The president sparked international controversy after he sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the assessment of his own intelligence agencies that Russian operatives subverted the 2016 presidential election and undermined American democracy.
In the days since the press conference, Trump, Whitman writes, has demonstrated "that he is not fit to remain in office." She adds: "Trump’s 2016 'America First' platform might be more aptly named 'Russia First' after the disaster that occurred last week."
Calling Trump's actions "indefensible," Whitman called on her fellow Republicans to urge Trump to resign:
Trump’s turn toward Russia is indefensible. I am a lifelong Republican. I have campaigned and won as a member of the party, and I have served more than one Republican president. My Republican colleagues — once rightfully critical of President Obama’s engagement strategy with Russian leader Vladimir Putin — have to end their willful ignorance of the damage Trump is doing both domestically and internationally. We must put aside the GOP label, as hard as that may be, and demonstrate the leadership our country needs by calling on the president to step down.
Whitman notes that Trump’s "sycophantic relationship" with Putin is "unsurprising given his previous comments about Russia and its dictator," and calls it "shocking" that he has possessed––and disregarded––"hard evidence" of Putin's meddling. (As a New York Times report last week pointed out, Trump received information about Putin's involvement early in January 2017.)
Whitman continues, this time asking her fellow Republicans what Trump has to do before he is removed from office. She notes that his actions are indicative of "someone who should be navigating delicate diplomatic discussions and setting foreign policy":
Trumps’ repeated public dismissals of the intelligence coming from his own deputies is deeply disturbing. Along with his walk back of statements last week, and then walking back the walk backs, it’s impossible to keep up, and his behavior warrants a fresh evaluation of whether the president can be trusted with the future of the United States. His apologists will argue that the current outcry is just another attempt by moderates and “establishment” Republicans to discredit the president. But what does this man have to say or do for his supporters to finally see that his actions are detrimental to the country?
Trump’s avowed respect for the word of a dictator who has spent decades undermining the U.S. and its allies is utterly dangerous. Putin is not our ally. Despite the president’s dismal attempt to change the narrative by explaining that he misspoke in Helsinki, the pattern is clear: As a candidate and as president, he has constantly praised Putin just as he has constantly undercut the core institutions of our democracy — the courts, the media and the FBI. He has a history of discrediting members of his own Cabinet and the agencies they lead. These are not the actions of someone who should be navigating delicate diplomatic discussions and setting foreign policy.
Trump later claimed to have misspoken during the press conference and walked back his assertion that Russia did not interfere in U.S. elections. (He has changed his tune on this at least twice in the days since.) But Whitman says that if Trump "did genuinely misspeak on Monday, it demonstrates his inability to articulate accurately U.S. foreign policy at the highest level, for the highest stakes":
As the leader of the free world — as ridiculous as that title sounds when applied to Trump — his words matter. If he cannot take his place at a podium next to an adversarial foreign leader and stand up for America’s interests and principles, he should not be president.
Whitman adds that Trump has "alienated our true allies in Europe and undermined the United States’ reputation as a consistent, reliable moral force for good in the world":
He disdains democracies and admires dictatorships. What appears to matter to him is not what leaders represent but how they flatter him. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Putin have cracked that code and fan Trump’s ego in a way that respected heads of state do not.
Republicans must choose their country over their party, Whitman says. It's "an overused trope," she notes. "But it is essential now."
Members of the Republican majority in Congress can do several things to show they will stand up to the president:
- Republicans "can fully implement promised sanctions against Russia to show its opposition to Russia’s meddling in our election." Whitman adds: "Tougher, tangible sanctions would weaken him and hurt those who benefit from his [Putin's] power."
- Congress "can also ensure that the Robert S. Mueller III investigation is not compromised. Any interference in it after this week should raise many red flags," Whitman writes, saying that the special counsel and his team have shown "every sign of unbiased professionalism" despite repeated attacks from the president.
- Russian operatives failed to undermine state voting systems, Whitman says, but that's a vulnerability that "may be exploited" in the future. She recommends that states, with assistance from Congress, "strengthen their processes and security to stop future meddling from Russia or other foreign actors."
Moreover, Whitman writes, Republican voters––including those who voted for the president––have a responsibility to "demand action from their elected officials." While Democrat opposition to Trump is expected, "it is Republicans’ disapproval that will have the most sway on Capitol Hill and at the White House."
And while those in Congress who have opposed the president "should be commended," Whitman says more must speak out:
More must follow, with more than private talk and tepid tweets. Only bold leadership can put the United States back on a path that values freedom and democracy, and truly puts America first.