President Trump keeps claiming, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, that no one has ever been tougher on Russia than him. Well, Republicans just got a chance to see how that claim plays in front of an audience, and the answer is none too well. In a debate between Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and his Republican challenger, Trump supporter Corey Stewart, Stewart claimed that Trump was “standing up to the Russians”, which caused about a two second stunned pause before both Kaine and the audience at the debate burst out laughing. That laughter seemed to fluster Stewart, who apparently was not expecting that reaction.

Stewart is a controversial figure who, in addition to being a vocal supporter of Trump, has also defended Confederate monuments. The chairman of the Republican party in Virginia so objected to Stewart as a candidate that he resigned as chairman after Stewart won the Republican primary. During the debate, Stewart was prattling on with complaints about Kaine in terms of standing up to Russia before saying that line about Trump that got him a chorus of unexpected laughter, namely, “We have a president who is standing up to the Russians,” according to The Hill:

Republican Senate nominee Corey Stewart (Va.) was interrupted by audience laughter during a debate on Saturday after saying President Trump “stands up” to Russia. Stewart, the controversial chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, was participating in a debate against incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). He was attempting to attack Kaine’s responses to acts of Russian aggression during the Obama administration, such as when Russians shot down an aircraft over Ukraine, or invaded Crimea. “We have a president who is standing up to the Russians,” Stewart said. He was met by loud laughter from both the audience and his opponent.

Here is a video from PoliticsVideoChannel showing Stewart prattling on against Kaine before making the claim that with Trump “We have a president who is standing up to the Russians”. After Stewart says this line, there is a second or two of stunned silence before Kaine and the audience erupt in laughter:

Many responses to this post commented on the power of an audience’s laughter to drive home the ridiculousness of an argument made during a debate. As this person tweeted, “I think laughter can be a much more powerful tool to challenge statements like these. Rather than relying on old school debate, outbursts of laughter by the audience hits home how ridiculous some of these arguments are. Bring it on to every debate. Make them a real laughing stock.”

One of the things that Trump supporters tend to point to as supposed proof that Trump is tough on Russia are the sanctions against it, but that is a bit of revisionist history. Congress last year, in a bipartisan landslide, passed sanctions against Russia, but President Trump kept refusing to enforce them, in one of his many displays of pro-Russia bias. It was not until this spring, after the nerve agent poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil, widely viewed to be the work of Russia, that Trump agreed to enforce sanctions, both those passed by Congress last year, and additional ones imposed because of the attack on the Skripals.

If President Trump thinks the public is buying his claim that there has been “no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia” (The Hill), the reaction of the audience at this debate in Virginia is proof that the public actually thinks that claim is ridiculous. In addition to his history of bizarrely pro-Russia sentiments and actions, President Trump’s lack of toughness on Russia was immediately apparent from his recent performance at his joint press conference with Vladimir Putin, the delay in his walking back some of the pro-Putin anti-U.S. intelligence comments he made there, the awkwardness of the backpedaling, his subsequent contradictory comments and, for a capper, Trump’s invitation to have Putin visit the White House this fall. No wonder people are laughing at his claims of being tough on Russia.

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