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Trump Asked China to Help His Campaign, Then Said It’s Helping Biden

Intelligencer logo Intelligencer 6/17/2020 Jonathan Chait
Xi Jinping, Donald Trump wearing military uniforms: Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images © Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images

President Trump has spent months claiming China is secretly working to help his opponent. “China is on a massive disinformation campaign because they are desperate to have Sleepy Joe Biden win the presidential race so they can continue to rip-off the United States, as they have done for decades, until I came along!,” he tweeted in May. “China will do anything they can to have me lose this race,” he told Reuters the month before.

It seemed as if Trump’s motivation for leveling this baseless charge was deflection: He had sought out Russian help in his 2016 election, and tried to extort Ukraine into helping him in 2020, so the specter of Chinese help would create an equivalent charge against Biden. But it turns out Trump’s actual motive was projection. He claimed China was secretly helping Biden because he got China to secretly help him.

The headline revelation in former Trump national security adviser John Bolton’s new book is that Trump implored Chinese president Xi Jinping to help his reelection by agreeing to purchase American farm products. Bolton presents this deal as a scandal on par with the Ukraine scheme that got Trump impeached. The comparison seems farfetched — asking a foreign country to help you by helping some of your constituents is far more benign than asking them to help you by ginning up a scandal to discredit your opponent.

What Bolton does show, however, is Trump’s deep subservience to China. His obsessive desire to complete a trade deal (which would alleviate the economic pain Trump’s tariff war had created) caused him to overlook China’s deceptive handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

At one point, Xi mentioned anti-China rhetoric in the United States, which Trump took as a reference to his opponents. “Trump immediately assumed Xi meant the Democrats,” Bolton writes, “Trump said approvingly that there was great hostility among the Democrats.” Xi told Trump he wanted to work with him for six more years, to which Trump replied that many Americans were clamoring to lift the Constitution’s two-term limit. Trump exclaimed that his counterpart was “the greatest Chinese leader in 300 years!” and later revising the assessment upward to “the greatest leader in Chinese history.”

Trump, of course, is running a campaign of smearing Biden as subservient to China. “BIDEN PROTECTED CHINA’S FEELINGS,” charges one Trump ad, claiming “BIDEN’S INTEREST” preventing him from denouncing the communist government. Trump is planning — or, at least, was planning — to make Biden’s alleged subservience to Beijing the central theme of the campaign.

While Trump has been telling America that China is trying to elect Joe Biden because it wanted to stop Trump, he was negotiating with China to get help electing himself to stop Biden. The entire basis of his message is the opposite of reality.

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