HELSINKI, FINLAND - JULY 16: U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a joint press conference after their...
Chris McGrath

For validation, Trump turns to a curious ally: Vladimir Putin

Updated

Toward the end of every year, Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a lengthy and wide-ranging press conference with reporters in Moscow, and last week, the authoritarian leader fielded a question about Donald Trump’s impeachment.

“I don’t think Trump will be voted out of power on made up charges,” the Russian president said. “Democrats lost the last election, and now they want to win by other means.” Pointing to the Mueller report, Putin added, “It turned out there was no collusion. It could not form the basis for impeachment, and now there is this made-up pressure on Ukraine.”

While we’ve grown accustomed to Trump echoing Putin’s rhetoric, this was a striking example of Putin echoing Trump’s rhetoric.

I wasn’t surprised that the Republican noticed the supportive rhetoric from his Russian benefactor. I was surprised that Trump, seemingly unaware of his own political circumstances, made a point to publicly cite Putin’s defense. The Washington Post reported:

Late Friday night, minutes before deplaning in Florida for the holidays, President Trump retweeted a link to an article in which Russian President Vladi­mir Putin defended him against impeachment.

“A total Witch Hunt!” the president tweeted at 10:30 p.m., as he shared a 36-hour-old Associated Press tweet that read: “BREAKING: Russian President Vladimir Putin says U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment is far-fetched and predicts the U.S. Senate will reject it.”

Trump’s boasting of Putin’s support comes a day after The Washington Post reported that White House advisers feared Trump’s belief that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for interfering with the 2016 election was spurred by conversations Trump had with Putin.

It’s hard not to wonder what Trump was thinking. After years in which he’s been accused of being Putin’s puppet, common sense suggests the Republican wouldn’t seek public validation from the authoritarian Russian president whose attack on the United States helped put him in power, and whose discredited propaganda Trump continues to peddle to the public.

And yet, here we are.

In the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, with George W. Bush struggling to find international partners for his ill-fated mission, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair did what most foreign leaders would not: he sided with the White House and its misguided desire for a disastrous war.

It wasn’t long before Blair’s domestic detractors noticed that the prime minister was following more than he was leading, leading to widespread criticisms that Blair was serving as Bush’s “lapdog.”

Imagine if, at the height of the controversy, Blair defended himself from the criticisms by pointing to praise from the American president. It would, naturally, have made things worse.

Trump seems unable to understand the degree to which he’s doing exactly that. Facing concerns that he’s Putin’s puppet, the Republican effectively told the public how delighted he is that the puppeteer agrees with him.

Those who thought Trump would at least have the good sense not to do this apparently thought too much of him.