Donald Trump pushed the envelope of propriety once again on Wednesday when he challenged Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing deleted emails. For a presidential candidate or any officeholder of any kind to seemingly encourage Russian espionage or spying by any foreign power on the United States, let alone his political opponent, isn’t merely unprecedented; it’s outrageous, even by the debased standards of behavior by which we have come to judge Trump.
But if anyone is expecting it to hurt him, they haven’t been paying attention to anything that’s happened in the last year. It merely shows once again that he’s the consummate political entertainer-in-chief who says things that a lot of Americans are thinking—and in doing so, is distracting the public and the media from the Democrats’ national convention.
In policy terms, Trump once again sent all the wrong signals to the Russians by downplaying the possibility that they’re guilty of the hack of the Democratic National Committee emails and placing the blame for bad relations between Washington and Moscow on President Obama. If Trump were thinking more about what is in America’s best long-term interests—i.e. like a president rather than an entertainer—he’d have sent a warning to the Russians that once in office, he’d be even tougher on them than Obama and that they shouldn’t even think of trying any funny business with Ukraine or the Baltic republics on his watch.
Instead, Trump made light about the Russians doing more hacking. But while this is earning him severe and well-earned rebukes from observers with foreign policy and security experience and more evidence that he is unfit for high office, it might be an act of political genius.
This was a pointed reminder of the public’s lack of trust in Hillary Clinton. He’s not the only one who would like to see what was in the emails Clinton’s staff deleted from her personal server. In addition to anger about her not facing any punishment for her reckless handling of classified material, there are still unanswered questions about Clinton’s conduct relating to the conflicts of interest between her State Department responsibilities and the donors to her family foundation that supports their royal lifestyle. That’s why it’s likely that the instinctual reaction of a lot of Americans, including many who don’t like Trump, to the line about the Russians finding out what the Clintons are up to, was a rueful smile rather than anger at the GOP nominee.
Trump accomplished today what he’s been doing for the past year. He won the news cycle by causing the media to rivet their attention on him and his outrageous statement. He alienated no one who would be likely to vote for him and convinced many others that, once again, he’s the only person with the chutzpah to say what they think about Hillary. His conduct is infuriating, but it’s no surprise that for the first time in this campaign, he is leading Clinton in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls. If Democrats want to beat him, they need to stop clucking about his bad conduct and start understanding why so many voters like his candor.