After the summit comes the backlash, and after the backlash comes the climbdown. If Trump intended for his meeting with Vladimir Putin to set Russia and the United States on a course to a warmer relationship—something the U.S. president has repeatedly said he wants—his performance has achieved just the opposite. In his eagerness to pursue better relations with Putin—for example, by casting doubt on his own intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the United States election to help Trump win—he has given more ammunition to those in government who seek to constrain him. Trump’s deferential behavior to Putin in Helsinki has undermined the president’s own desire to “reset” the Russia relationship, likely ensuring just the opposite: a more hawkish approach to Russia from his own government.
Trump tried to walk back his disparagement of the U.S. intelligence community, but his confusing statement (“I meant to say wouldn’t, not would”) is unlikely to convince his critics. That’s because Trump, even before he was president, has been very consistent in his positive view of Putin and desire to “get along” with Russia. Contrary to his stated desires, however, his administration (with pressure from Congress) has pursued an assertive deterrence policy on Russia. The gap between the president’s pro-Russian rhetoric and his administration’s hawkish policies has grown over the course of Trump’s term, and is now poised to grow further still.