Trump’s performance with Putin not a ‘tipping point’ for his base: Former Bush aide

  • Trump’s performance at a press conference with Russia President Vladimir Putin wasn’t damaging enough to be a “tipping point” for his base, says Sara Fagen.
  • Fagen says there would need to be harsher criticism from the full body of the Senate as well as House leaders.
  • She says also one or two very senior White House officials would need to resign for Trump's base to be swayed.

President Donald Trump’s performance at a press conference with Russia President Vladimir Putin wasn’t damaging enough to be a “tipping point” for his base to start to walk away, said Sara Fagen, former senior aide to President George W. Bush.

The president has come under harsh criticism since Monday’s summit with the Russian leader. In the post-meeting press conference, Trump appeared to endorse Putin’s denial of Russian election meddling over the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies. On Tuesday, Trump said he misspoke.

Fagen told CNBC that while there has been very strong criticism from Republican senators, it has been from those who have been critical of the president.

“We need to see the full body of the Senate, particularly, and some leaders in the House, they would need to be much more critical, and the language they use would need to be stronger,” she said on “Power Lunch” Tuesday.

Plus, one or two very senior White House officials would need to resign for his base to be swayed, added Fagen, a CNBC contributor.

President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018.

In responding to the widespread criticism on Tuesday, Trump said, "I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place."

He then added: "Could be other people also. A lot of people out there. But there was no collusion."

The president said he misspoke in Monday’s press conference.

"My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coates came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia," Trump said Monday. "I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."

However, Trump said he meant to say he didn't see "any reason why it wouldn't be Russia."

He also repeatedly praised intelligence agencies on Tuesday. "I have a faith, full faith, in our intelligence agencies. I have full faith and support for America's great intelligence agencies, always have," he said.

Fagen said Trump should have said those words while standing next to Putin, but she believes his remarks on Tuesday will soothe the criticism.

“The criticism has been sharp in a few corners but not sharp enough to see widespread defections, to force people to resign, the things that would be required for this to be a tipping point, at least in his foreign policy outlook,” she said.

Among those who slammed the president on Monday was Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who called the press conference "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."

Former CIA director John Brennan said in a tweet that the press conference was "nothing short of treasonous."

— CNBC's Christina Wilke contributed to this report.