A key point in the theory that Donald Trump and the Russians conspired in the 2016 election is the allegation that during the Republican convention, the Trump campaign changed the GOP platform to weaken its stance on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
The only problem is, it’s all wrong.
The original draft of the platform shows it always had tough language on Russian aggression in Ukraine. And not only did that language stay in the final platform, it was actually strengthened at the convention.
The original draft stated: “Repressive at home and reckless abroad, their policies imperil the nations which regained their self-determination upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. We will meet the return of Russian belligerence with the same resolve that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. We will not accept any territorial change in Eastern Europe imposed by force, in Ukraine or elsewhere, and will use all appropriate measures to bring to justice the practitioners of aggression and assassination.”
That wasn’t exactly a pro-Russia or pro-Putin statement. And it stayed in the final Republican platform.
So how did the narrative get started? It appears it was unwittingly set in motion by a single Republican delegate, a Texas woman named Diana Denman, who proposed to add paragraphs to toughen the original platform’s position on Ukraine.
“The Ukrainian people deserve our admiration and support in their struggle, and in their efforts to strengthen the rule of law, forge a free-market economy, and expand democratic governance. We therefore support maintaining (and, if warranted, increasing) sanctions against Russia until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored. We also support providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine’s armed forces and greater coordination with NATO on defense planning. Simultaneously, we call for increased financial aid for Ukraine, as well as greater assistance in the economic and humanitarian spheres, including government reform and anti-corruption.”
At the behest of the Trump campaign, the platform committee took out the reference to “lethal defensive weapons.” But it approved her statement and, in the place of lethal aid, substituted a pledge to provide “appropriate assistance to the armed forces of Ukraine.”
“We support maintaining and, if warranted, increasing sanctions, together with our allies, against Russia unless and until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored. We also support providing appropriate assistance to the armed forces of Ukraine and greater coordination with NATO defense planning.”
“The platform ended up tougher than it started,” Denman told me.
Later, however, The Washington Post published a story headlined, “Trump campaign guts GOP’s anti-Russia stance on Ukraine.” It charged that Trump had weakened the platform, and a new conventional wisdom began to form: The Trump team, doing the bidding of Vladimir Putin, gutted the GOP platform’s position on behalf of Russia.
That is precisely the opposite of what happened. In the end, the platform, already fairly strong on the Russia-Ukraine issue, was strengthened.
The Trump campaign agreed to a platform condemning Kremlin belligerence, calling for continued, and perhaps increased, sanctions against Russia, for the full restoration of Ukrainian territory, for refusing to accept “any territorial change in Eastern Europe imposed by force, in Ukraine or elsewhere,” and pledging to aid Ukraine’s armed forces.
The bottom line is that almost nothing in the Trump-weakened-the-GOP-platform narrative is as it seems. Whatever the full story of Trump and Russia in the 2016 campaign turns out to be, it will only be revealed by examining what actually happened, not by repeating talking points.