For as long as history remembers Donald Trump, it will be a day that will live in infamy.
The President’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday is already one of the most notorious moments in the tortured relations between Washington and Moscow.
Trump’s humiliation is taking its place alongside John Kennedy’s bruising at the hands of Nikita Khrushchev, and George W. Bush staring into Putin’s eyes and getting a sense of his soul.
Like those moments in US-Russia summit lore, the events that unfolded Monday are likely to have significant and unpredictable political and geopolitical reverberations in the United States and around the world.
Trump’s favoring of Putin’s denial of election interference accusations leveled by the US intelligence community was not just the most abject display given by any President overseas, it may be the moment that finally validated claims that Trump prizes his own interests above those of America.
The most obvious question – why did Trump cave so spectacularly to Putin – is likely to remain cloudy going forward, at least unless special counsel Robert Mueller finds evidence the President is beholden to the Russian leader.
But there are going to be profound consequences in Washington and beyond.
Here is what may happen next.
Trump WILL fight back
In 1961, Kennedy emerged from a roughing up by Soviet leader Khrushchev in Vienna and admitted to James Reston of The New York Times that their meeting had been the worst thing in his life.
It’s no surprise that Trump showed no similar self-awareness in a sympathetic interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News on Monday, but Kennedy’s description of his humiliation would be a good summation of the 45th President’s encounter with Putin.
Objectively, Trump has emerged from the summit a diminished figure.
He looked weak. He was obsequious to the stone-faced Russian leader and came across as unprepared and outmatched. He looked as far as it is possible to be from his own self-image as a bullying tough-as-nails dealmaker, the man who boasted at the Republican National Convention in 2016 that “I alone can fix it.”
The myth of Trump as an American strongman may never recover.
It is already clear that the summit is a short-term political disaster for Trump. For a man who jealously guards his image, the mockery will sting and is already provoking the biggest backlash of his presidency.
The President’s former White House communications chief Anthony Scaramucci said that Trump needed to launch a damage control effort.
“This is a major mistake … this is not a mistake of words, by the way, this is not a bad PR kerfuffle. This is a mistake of strategy and execution. This is a mistake of thinking and you have your ego involved,” Scaramucci told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on “New Day.”
“He has to speak out about it and reverse course immediately.”
Top Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who normally don’t criticize him, put distance between themselves and Trump.
“The President must appreciate that Russia is not our ally, there is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia,” Ryan said in a written statement.
Even Newt Gingrich, a Trump supporter, rediscovered his roots as an old Cold Warrior.
“President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected – immediately,” Gingrich tweeted.
Trump tried to clean up his mess in tweets as he flew home across the Atlantic.
“As I said today and many times before, ‘I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people,’” he wrote. “However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!”
A normal President might rethink his approach to leadership.
It was his hubris and desire to be unchained from his staff that led him to meet Putin alone for nearly two hours in Helsinki – fueling rumors that he is under the Russian leader’s spell. His claim that he was ready for what would be the “easier” leg of his European tour now looks damning. Trump’s confidence that he can wing it through international summits ought to be in tatters – given his failure in Finland and the ballyhooed summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last month, where the President also seemed outmaneuvered.
More likely, Trump will double down and change the subject. When he’s in a corner, he fights back. Twitter may catch fire on Tuesday.
What will the West do now?
Trump is supposed to be the leader of the free world. But such men don’t kowtow to Russian dictators.
Trump’s performance on Monday followed his blitzkrieg through Europe, in which he split the transatlantic alliance, and insulted allied leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s Theresa May – effectively