WASHINGTON – It's not helpful to the president when his team posts a "fact sheet" on Facebook and it gets more "hahas" than "likes."
But that's just what happened after the White House put up a post Tuesday that started with the words: "President Donald J. Trump is Protecting Our Elections and Standing Up to Russia's Malign Activities." By Thursday afternoon, 7,900 people "liked" that post, and 9,200 laughed at it.
And that's just one sign that beyond Trump's loyal core of fellow travelers, relatively few people buy his ever-shifting story about why he took the word of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin over that of his own intelligence agencies.
What happens when a president says something on Monday that a former CIA director labels "treasonous," then reverses himself partway a day later, then contradicts his intelligence agencies again the morning after that, then sends his spokeswoman to the podium to try to clean up the mess, and then goes on CBS himself to try to do the same thing?
Well, that's the sort of strategy that gets you "hahas" on Facebook.
Here, moment by moment, is how Trump managed to pull it off:
Monday morning: Ending a summit with Putin, Trump lauds the Russian leader's "extremely strong and powerful" denial of election meddling and essentially contradicts the finding of every U.S. intelligence agency. "I don't see any reason why it would be" Russia meddling in the election, Trump adds.
Tuesday afternoon: After a bipartisan firestorm, Trump backtracks – sort of. "I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn't,’" he says– while hedging his statement by saying: "It could be other people, also," who were involved in the election meddling.
Wednesday morning: A reporter asks Trump: “Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?” That's what U.S. intelligence agencies say, but the president shakes his head and replies: “Thank you very much. No." The reporter then rephrases the question, and again the president says: "No."
Wednesday afternoon: Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tries to explain. “The president said, 'Thank you very much,’ and was saying ‘no’ to answering questions,” Sanders says. “The president and his administration are working very hard to make sure that Russia is unable to meddle as they have done in the past.”
Wednesday evening: Trump tells CBS he holds Putin responsible for the election meddling.
So, is your head spinning yet? Plenty of heads are, and the evidence of that goes far beyond the "hahas" on that Trump Facebook post.
Only 32 percent of the people polled by CBS News Tuesday and Wednesday approved of Trump's performance at his summit with Putin – and some of them of course were questioned before they knew about all of Trump's topsy-turvy responses to the summit controversy. A poll taken a day or two later might make things look even worse for Trump.
Perhaps most notably, only 68 percent of Republicans approved of Trump's performance at the summit -- compared to 82 percent who approved of his performance overall in a Reuters-Ipsos poll taken earlier in July.
And it's not just a majority of the general public that didn't like what they saw from Trump at the summit.
Asked about Trump's "would/wouldn't" flip flop, Republican Rep. Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania told CNN: "I don't think the international community is going to buy it."
Meantime, a U.S. diplomat, who quite understandably asked not to be identified by name, told the Daily Beast that Trump's actions this week were "beyond disgraceful" and "fundamentally ignorant." What's more, that diplomat said he wonders if Putin is blackmailing Trump with damaging personal information.
And Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said the president needs to get serious to prevent Russia from meddling in future U.S. elections. "The warnings from the intelligence community could not be more clear," Graham said on Twitter. "Republicans and Democrats working with the President need to act quickly."
The House, on a party-line vote Thursday, rejected a Democratic effort to increase election security funding. And beyond that, it's difficult to imagine that lawmakers will come up with a strong new plan to fight further Russian election interference when the president can't even keep his story straight about it.
All that's left for some, then, is to joke about this. And people did plenty of that in response to that White House Facebook post.
"Sorry, he misspoke again," one commenter wrote. "It should read: 'President Trump ISN'T protecting our elections and standing up to Russia's malign activities'."
Now that would be funny, really, if this weren't so serious.
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