Soon after he became president, Donald Trump announced his foreign policy would be explicitly "America First." But a year and a half later, after making a series comments very friendly to Russian President Vladimir Putin and alienating to America's allies in the European Union, people are calling that approach into question. In the hours leading up to his summit with Putin summit in Helsinki, people were already calling Trump the "Blame America First" president.
It started when Trump referred to allies in the European Union as "foes" of the American people while at the NATO summit in Belgium last week. Then, before the Monday meeting with Putin, Trump blamed America and its former leaders for poor relations between the U.S. and Russia.
"Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!" Trump tweeted on Monday.
The Russian foreign ministry, for one, welcomed Trump's comments, tweeting just two words: "We agree." Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul wasn't having it though. He quote-tweeted Trump: "No previous President of the United States of America has ever spoken like this about relations with Russia. Ever. #BAF. Blame America First."
But he didn't stop there. McFaul also made an appearance Monday on MSNBC's Morning Joe to expand on this concept of Trump's "Blame America First" presidency. "The president also tweeted that America is at fault, blame America first for the tensions in U.S.-Russia relations," McFaul told host Joe Scarborough.
McFaul said Russia's actions have led to "tensions" in the U.S.-Russia relationship. "For President Trump to just insinuate as he just did in his initial remarks today, 'Well bygones! Let’s forget about all that stuff and move on because I want a great relationship with you, Putin,'" he added. "That is just not serving America’s national interest, in my view."
The phrase "blame America first" actually comes from former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick, according to The Washington Post. At the 1984 GOP national convention, Kirkpatrick used the phrase to bolster President Ronald Reagan's foreign policy.
But it wasn't just Trump's tweets that worried political observers on Monday. At a press conference in Helsinki, Trump sided with Putin in denying Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump said he didn't "see any reason why" Russia would have interfered, according to CNN. "I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said after the pair's two-hour long solo meeting.
In the press conference, Trump even singled out his own intelligence officials' conclusions that Russia interfered in the election, name-dropping Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. "My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, some others, they said they think it's Russia," Trump said, according to CBS News. "I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be."
Trump's pro-Russia comments also came on the heels of a series of Russia-related indictments. Hours after his comments on Monday, the U.S. government announced the arrest of a 29-year-old Russian pro-gun activist with ties to the NRA. The Justice Department announced Mariia Butina was "charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian government while developing ties with U.S. citizens and infiltrating political groups," according to Reuters. On Friday, 12 Russian military intelligence officers were indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Given that context, what the pundits saw as Trump's pivot to "blame America first" is even more notable.