Russia’s Vladimir Putin has sparked an important global crisis, which has drawn condemnations from leaders around the world. As NBC News noted, however, Donald Trump decided yesterday that the Russian autocrat’s indifference to international law is worthy of great praise.
Former President Donald Trump praised Putin’s aggressive moves against Ukraine as “genius” and “very savvy” in a podcast interview Tuesday. "I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Trump told conservative podcaster Buck Sexton.
The former president seemed quite animated on this point. Reflecting on how impressed he was while watching coverage of Putin’s invasion of a neighboring country, the Republican added, “I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force.... We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy... I know him very well. Very, very well.”
Trump went on to praise Putin as “a tough cookie” who has “great charm.”
As a rule, the number of countries where leading officials see the invasion of Ukraine as “wonderful” is quite small. As a global security crisis takes shape, Trump has put himself in a small circle, aligning himself with the attitudes of dictators in countries like Syria and Cuba.
Obviously, the former president’s position is wildly at odds with the views of his own country, and even his own party. But that doesn’t mean the Republican’s rhetoric is unimportant.
On the contrary, it matters, for example, that Trump believes Putin’s indefensible mistake, which actually harms Russia far more than it helps, is “genius.” It also matters that Trump considers an invading military, which intends to take a country by force, a “peace force.”
But what stood out as especially notable was the former president looking wistfully at Putin’s military offensive and saying, “We could use that on our southern border.”
In other words, Trump doesn’t just admire Putin for instigating a global security crisis, he sees Putin’s actions as worthy of emulation. Trump doesn’t just admire Russia’s authoritarian leader, he seems eager to be more like the autocrat.
By any fair measure, it’s embarrassing to see a prominent American — the effective head of one of the country’s two major political parties — acting like a child who wants to be the charter member of a “We Love Putin” fan club. But stepping back, we’re left with questions, not for Trump, but for his party:
Are Republicans comfortable with Trump’s gushing praise for Putin? Do lawmakers such as Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio agree that Russia’s invasion was a “genius” move? Will Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell endorse the idea that the invading Russian military represents a “peace force”?
Or are leading GOP voices going to pretend, once again, not to know what Trump said?