An Explainer on Donald Trump Jr.’s Latest Gaffe and the Limits of “Draining the Swamp”

Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out e-mails that show he was eager to receive an assist from Russia for his father’s campaign.

Donald Jr. And Eric Trump Attend Opening Of Trump International Hotel & Tower In Vancouver
Jeff Vinnick

Amidst an affair that involves a seemingly random Russian lawyer, a tabloid journalist turned music publicist and an B-list Azerbijani pop star, Donald Trump Jr. voluntarily tweeted out e-mails this morning in which he confirmed that members of his father’s campaign staff were once told that the Russian government was eager to work towards guaranteeing his father’s win, and that the Trump campaign was open to receiving that assistance. Or, as Trump Jr., wrote in the exchange, “if its what you say I love it.”

This outburst proved, once again, that the Trump administration can always find a way to completely boggle the minds of political experts, the national press, and the rest of Washington D.C. Even the beltway class is spinning around in circles trying to figure out the full implications of the admissions, and why, exactly, Trump Jr. would voluntarily tweet these emails out in the first place. Even Vice President Mike Pence is positioning himself as far as way as he possibly can from the mess. Unlike a piece of space equipment on display at a NASA Center, Pence has decided his best move is to pretend it has a giant sign on it reading “DO NOT TOUCH.”

To recap the complicated situation as briefly as possible, back in June 2016, weeks after Trump Sr. has clinched the Republican nomination, Trump Jr. received an e-mail from his acquaintance Rob Goldstone, a British-born gossip journalist turned music promoter and manager. Goldstone was managing the career of Emin Agalarov, a semi-successful Azerbijani pop star (who once snagged Donald Trump himself for a cameo in a 2013 music video). Agalarov is also the son of Aras Agalarov, a billionaire Russian real-estate developer. Basically: two children of wealthy men casually trying to influence world affairs on behalf of their fathers through their mutual sketchy friend.

“The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Eras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” Goldstone wrote to Trump Jr., adding that this was all “part of Russia and its government’s support of Mr. Trump.”

Trump Jr. wrote back saying, “if its what you say I love it” like he was singing the refrain to an Icona Pop song and agreed to set up a meeting. That meeting did take place, with Trump Jr., then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner in attendance, but turned out to actually have nothing to do with what Goldstone promised, seemingly much to the chagrin of the Trumpees in attendance.

Many on the left are landing on the conclusion that this is pretty much Trump Jr. admitting to a federal crime (see: Vox news). The right’s best defense so far? Well, technically it’s not illegal (see: Fox News).

Of course, these events brings us back to the heady days of Trump’s campaign and offer even more insight into how the campaign was run and reveal that no one had any idea what they were actually doing.

When running a presidential campaign, serious candidates usually have these three things in mind:

  1. As Charlie Sheen would say, “Duh, winning.” That’s the basic stuff.
  2. Building a platform and a plan with which one can realistically govern.
  3. Though it seems much more less in vogue nowadays, preparing to act as president of the entire country and not just those who voted for you with the perhaps too idealistic intent of hoping to heal any wounds or divisions caused by the campaign. (Maybe it rarely happens, but respect for the power of the office usually compels anyone running for it to hope and achieve this point.)

Donald Trump basically stopped at point number one and called it a campaign. He stopped at the Charlie Sheen level. It worked, but proved to be much to the detriment of ever hoping to achieve points two or three.

Ever the marketing guy, Trump detected a strong anti-establishment sentiment on the right, laser-pointed his message at them, promised to “drain the swamp,” and ran a campaign from the gut with very little in the way of professional, established (i.e. “swampy”) help …especially at the point when the meeting took place (Manafort may have been a bit more qualified for the campaign manager role than his predecessor Corey Lewandowski, but its worth pointing that Manafort had never run as much as a city council campaign on his own before). Trump actually used the fact that his campaign had little experienced help as a selling point, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to find out his campaign was so oddly and perhaps unethically (or even criminally) run.

This is how you get to the point where the president’s son, his son-in-law and his campaign manager all think its a good idea to take a shady meeting brokered in part by the singer of a not-quite-hit-single “Смотришь в небо” with the promise of direct electoral help from a foreign power. No one had the better judgement to realize that maybe this wouldn’t be a good idea (ironically they also lacked the judgement to realize that maybe the meeting wouldn’t be all it cracked up to be).

Donald Trump Jr. has since tweeted that he was merely collecting opposition research, something that all campaigns do, but most campaigns do not rely on the candidate’s son (who didn’t even have an official role in the campaign) brokering opposition research through quite a random dude they kind of knew who was soliciting the help of a country with a historically tense relationship with America. Hillary Clinton may have been using pop stars and their managers to provide entertainment for “get out the vote” rallies, but she certainly wasn’t using them to set up “highly sensitive” opposition research meetings.

Of course, President Trump’s campaign operated unlike any other in recent history, and that may have been a big part of its appeal to his supporters in the first place. Yet, time and time again, the Trump administration’s constant gaffes proves that it is actually a good idea to employ and listen to people who actually know what they’re doing.

Trump may have seen Washington D.C. as a swamp, but when navigating a swamp whose help do you want? Some people who actually know the topography? Or a foreign pop star and your son’s weird English friend named Rob? Because allowing the later to help guide you might just lead you into the middle of a giant sinkhole that has a sign that says “apparent Russian collusion” in big red letters next to it.

Related: Melania Trump Might Actually Wield More Power in the White House Than Anyone Thought

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