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Yvonne Abraham

GOP candidates from Mass. miss chance to stand up to Trump

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Phew! For a second there, I was worried the president of the United States was a dolt who thought more highly of a hostile country led by a murderous autocrat than he did of his own.

But after President Trump credited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of election interference over the assessments of his own intelligence services Monday afternoon, sparking outrage, the president cleared it all up: He’d simply misspoken. He’d said he saw no reason why Russia would interfere in the 2016 elections, as a delighted Putin stood beside him. But really, he’d meant to say wouldn’t, thereby blaming the betrayal heard around the world on “sort of a double negative.” Darn those sort of double negatives. They are so not not annoying.

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Sure, Trump’s excuse was so transparently false that a 10-year-old would be ashamed to deploy it. Yes, it was undercut by everything else he said in Helsinki, and by the off-script double-down on Tuesday, where he said the hacking “could have been other people also.” And then there were Wednesday’s comments, walking back the walk-back as, again, Trump appeared to take Putin’s side against US intelligence services.

But hey, never mind all that. Trump’s partial, insincere, evaporating apology was good enough for GOP leaders in Washington, tens of whom had come out to oppose his remarks, throw up their hands, then promptly sit on them.

Now they’re off the hook. It was all a misunderstanding, folks!

Also off the hook: the Massachusetts Republicans running for the US Senate, all of whom will fit right in with the dutiful doormats in the caucus they hope to join. That’s obviously true of State Representative Geoff Diehl, whose lips are even more tightly affixed to the president’s posterior than Trump’s are to Putin’s rump.

“The summit was fine,” Diehl assured us on Tuesday. His campaign sent along a statement to further support the president, and to say — contra footage showing Trump folding like a cheap tent — that “the president and his administration has been and will stand up to Russia.” Further, Diehl delivered a both-sides somersault with an unproven allegation twist, arguing that the 12 Russians indicted last week for interfering in the 2016 election should be held accountable, “and so should the FBI officials who used their position to influence the results.”

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Such devotion. But what of the two other candidates in the race, both trying to cast themselves as moderate without alienating the Trumpkins they need for victory?

After Helsinki, Winchester businessman John Kingston tweeted to “encourage President Trump to reconsider his strategy and remarks so that US interests are protected from, and not prejudiced by, Russian aggression.” That gentle nudging passes for heroism in today’s GOP. But Kingston sent a statement on Wednesday saying he applauded “Trump’s acceptance of the US intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.” The former never-Trumper is playing along.

As is political operative Beth Lindstrom, who offered mild criticism of Trump before expressing support. “Trump missed an opportunity to challenge Russia on its meddling in our elections,” read her statement. “But I’m glad [he] subsequently clarified that he accepts the conclusions of our intelligence agencies over Putin’s denials.”

Oh yeah, it’s all fixed now. The president has totally come around. Wink wink.

Besides, Lindstrom said, Trump has been plenty tough on Russia, citing, among other things, his administration’s retaliation against the use of chemical weapons in Syria, encouraging NATO to spend more on defense, and maintaining sanctions for the annexation of Crimea. Never mind that Trump has dragged his feet on sanctions, spoken as if he believes Russia should keep Crimea, undermined NATO, and cozied up to Putin at every opportunity.

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Lindstrom and other Senate candidates need Trump voters to win the nomination. Members of Congress need them to keep their jobs (and their tax cuts and judicial picks). Best to act like they take Trump at his word.

Even when everybody knows that word isn’t not a lie.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.