Donald Trump cozying up to one of the world’s most ruthless dictators is a tough one to swallow for Republicans. Most conservative lawmakers condemned President Obama's willingness to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, which would seem – if one were being generous – as somewhat analogous to Trump's decision to sit down with Kim Jong-un. But many of these same lawmakers have also hitched their political future to the Trump Train, making it difficult to praise the president for legitimizing the North Korean dictator without coming off as hypocritical. This doesn't mean they didn't try.
The hottest post-summit take came from Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who told Hugh Hewitt Tuesday morning that Kim Jong-un warranted the respect of the United States because North Korea already has a nuclear arsenal.
Sen. Cotton to Hugh Hewitt this morning, on the optics of Singapore. pic.twitter.com/Buu9Z0ScZ5— Elana Schor (@eschor) June 12, 2018
According to Cotton, if a nation has nuclear weapons, it is therefore legitimized in the eyes of the United States, which essentially incentivizes nuclear proliferation. Iran better get to work enriching that uranium if it wants to work out a deal to have American economic sanctions lifted.
Outside of criticizing Trump, Cotton had no other choice than to attempt such daring mental gymnastics. When President Obama was negotiating the Iran deal in 2015, Cotton penned a letter to Iran's leaders warning them that if they were to strike a deal with the United States, Congress or a future president could easily reverse it. The letter was signed by 46 Republican senators, including Marco Rubio who also defended the president's sit down with Kim.
Presidents meeting with #KJU exposed incredible hypocrisy of many in media. When Obama did these things,he was described as enlightened. When Trump does it he is reckless & foolish. 1 yr ago they attacked Trump for leading us towards war,now attack for being too quick for peace— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 12, 2018
Should be skeptical of any deal with #KJU Limits to future strategic weapons instead of eliminating current program not an acceptable outcome. Hope I’m wrong but still believe they will never give up nukes & ICBM’s unless believe failure to do so triggers regime ending reaction— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 12, 2018
Here we see Rubio tweeting about how Trump is moving toward peace with North Korea, and then seven minutes later writing that he doesn't believe North Korea would do away with its nuclear arsenal unless if felt the United States was about to blow the entire nation into oblivion. If this is the case, "peace" is impossible and the president's meeting with Kim was pointless, as was his decision to put an end to America's joint military exercises with South Korea in exchange for vague assurances that North Korea would seek to denuclearize. As the New York Times points out, North Korea doing so would be far more difficult than it was for Iran, or any other nation with nuclear capabilities.
Speaking of hypocrisy, here's what Rubio wrote in 2015 after Obama made the Iran deal: "Most alarming of all is the realization that President Obama decided to elevate an evil and illegitimate third-rate autocracy." Imagine how Republicans – many of which shared Rubio's views regarding Obama's negotiations with Iran – would have reacted if in addition to "elevating" the regime, Obama breathlessly gushed about talented the ayatollah is, how they've formed a "special bond" and how a White House invitation should be imminent.
Other Republican lawmakers have taken a wait-and-see approach while simultaneously praising the summit as a sign of progress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the meeting a "historic first step" while calling for "maximum pressure" if Kim doesn't make good on his promise to denuclearize. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who as of late has been uncharacteristically critical of Trump, warned that "We must always be clear that we are dealing with a brutal regime with a long history of deceit," but made sure to "commend" Trump for sitting down with Kim. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, who is hoping Trump will back his recently introduced marijuana bill, noted that the summit "must be followed by multiple meetings to test North Korea's promises of denuclearization." Bob Corker of Tennessee, who has pushed back against Trump perhaps more than any other Republican senator, was bluntly critical of the summit. "It is difficult to determine what of concrete nature has occurred," he said.
The Republican party itself was even more optimistic than its lawmakers, tweeting that summit deserves to be chiseled in the history books next to Ronald Reagan's 1987 call to the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.
If Reagan at any point called Gorbachev a "funny guy" with "a great personality," it happened behind closed doors.