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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Yes, almost every elected Republican we talk to privately thinks President Trump’s warm embrace of Vladimir Putin was unexplainable, unacceptable and un-American. Yes, they wish they could say this publicly. No, they won’t — not now, and probably never. 

The cold, hard reason: They see no upside in speaking out — and fear political suicide if they do, numerous Republican officials tell us.

  • Why it matters: This is the mind-control power Trump has, thanks to 90 percent of Republicans approving of his tactics and performance.
  • These 90 percent empower and are empowered by Fox News and a pro-Trump social media ecosystem that always comes to the president’s defense, even if they flinch for a moment or two. 

We just witnessed this power on full display:

  • You had a rare moment where virtually every Republican was aghast at Trump’s words.
  • But almost every Republican — except those leaving the stage — softened their direct criticism of Trump and ran from TV or reporters like the plague. 

GOP lawmakers' immediate complaints about the press conference were quickly tempered. Trump’s cleanup and turnaround yesterday ("I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't'") had one audience: Capitol Hill.

  • Senior staff saw a real risk of backlash — worse than after Charlottesville — if the brewing rebellion wasn’t nipped in the bud quickly, per sources close to White House.

Be smart: Most Republican members of Congress don't need to do anything so radical as actually believe Trump is sincere about correcting himself.

  • They need a fig leaf so they can justify quickly returning to support their president, who is vastly more popular with Republican voters than any of them are.

P.S. Two tweets illuminate this phenomenon:

  • Mike Murphy, GOP strategist: "I’m furious R’s are cowardly about Trump. But here is what they say in private: 1.) Trump is a disgrace. 2.) I give fiery press conf tmmrw saying that. 3.) Nothing changes, Trump remains nuts and remains POTUS. 4.) A nut beats me in next primary. So how does my pol suicide help?"
  • Dave Wasserman of Cook Political Report: "Most Republican members are willing to admit POTUS doesn't operate in reality, but know they're doomed in their next primary if they say so publicly. As long as that's true, we're headed for a world w/ zero accountability."

The last word: Trump chimed in with a tweet at 5:53 Wednesday morning:

  • "So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki. Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!"

Go deeper: Axios' Alexi McCammond found most GOP Senate candidates are sticking with Trump.

Subscribe to Axios AM/PM for a daily rundown of what's new and why it matters, directly from Mike Allen.
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Go deeper

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2 hours ago - Economy & Business

What's really going on with the labor market

Source: YCharts

The labor market is showing some signs of improvement: Jobless claims fell to 730,000 — a dramatic drop from 841,000 the previous week. And the latest jobs report showed a pandemic-era low unemployment rate of 6.3%

But, but, but: That's not the full story, experts say.

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Markets see rare convergence milestone

Expand chart
Data: YCharts; Chart: Axios Visuals

A milestone was reached in the markets Thursday: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to match the dividend yield on the S&P 500

Why it matters: The two yields have been inverted since the beginning of last year, which is historically unusual.

Mike Allen, author of AM
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First look: Business puts muscle behind Biden

Business Roundtable, the voice of America's top CEOs, today launched "Move the Needle," a campaign to support President Biden in rolling out COVID vaccines, increasing vaccine uptake and encouraging masks.

What they're saying: "Masks and vaccines are working. Now is the time to keep at it, overcome pandemic fatigue, and double down on the measures that will end this public health and economic crisis, said Business Roundtable president and CEO Josh Bolten.