Donald Trump’s handling of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder is an expression of his theory of foreign affairs in general—it’s a model of quickly established personal connections, not long-term relationships between nation states. Trump’s business relationship with the Saudi royal family goes back almost a decade, and all those apartment sales that made him “like them very much” get in the way of Trump taking appropriate action on a national level. The same effect can be seen in Trump’s slice of cake, game of golf “friendship” with Chinese president Xi, his exchange of love letters with Kim Jong Un, and most certainly in his “he says nice things about me” relationship with Vladimir Putin. Trump’s first, second, and last thought about anyone is how they relate to him, not how the goals of the nation they lead may be in conflict with what’s good for the United States.
But the murder of Khashoggi, and the way Trump has attempted to handle it by insisting that the U.S. can do nothing to upset the Saudi royals and that the Saudis should be given all the time they want to investigate a crime where they’re the primary (and, in fact, only) suspects, is rankling even to Republicans in Congress. Republicans have made their party all about Trump and nationalized the midterms to a greater degree than any election in history. But that Trump connection isn’t looking particularly helpful as they ride into the teeth of bad poll numbers with Trump openly defending a grisly murder.
It also doesn’t soothe Republicans that in his effort to put a lid on any intelligence leaks concerning what happened at the Saudi consulate, Trump has shut down briefings on the subject. That’s even true for Republicans senators, who found a scheduled Tuesday briefing un-scheduled at the last minute. As Bloomberg reports, Trump’s beyond kid glove treatment of Saudi murderers is opening rifts even with those who had reconciled themselves to a party that was all Trump, all the time. Trump may be shocked, but there are some in Congress who don’t like a crown prince who rose to power by murdering or imprisoning his relatives, or think much of the nation that’s dropping U.S. bombs willy nilly on civilian targets.
“There are a number of constituencies in Congress that are hostile to Saudi Arabia,” said Jon Alterman, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. U.S. lawmakers have complained about the kingdom’s egregious human rights record, its suppression of religious freedom and civilian deaths in the Yemen war.
Until now, there hasn’t been enough energy within this bipartisan group to bring out Republicans willing to stand up to Trump on his support for Mohammed bin Salman, or to challenge the fiction of the “largest arms deal ever.” But that may be changing.