It was two weeks ago when Donald Trump praised Vladimir Putin’s efforts in Ukraine as “genius” and “very savvy” in a podcast interview. If the former president expected his Republican allies to rally to his defense, echoing his line because it was his line, Trump had reason to be disappointed.
“I do not think anything’s savvy or genius about Putin,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters this week.
Given the larger political landscape, it’s tempting to think that Trump would be eager to undo some of the damage and make clear that he’s not sympathetic to the Russian leader. In fact, on Fox News last night, Sean Hannity seemed quite eager to help his GOP ally, carefully setting a ball on a tee, apparently hoping the former president would take a swing.
He wouldn’t. Politico reported overnight:
Former President Donald Trump on Thursday was given several chances during a Fox News interview to reject autocrats and walk back his praise for President Vladimir Putin of Russia but didn’t. Fox’s Sean Hannity set Trump up multiple times during the 30-minute exchange to criticize Putin, but the former president didn’t go along. He instead touted his relationships with Putin, the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Xi Jinping of China.
The host asked, “I think you also recognize he’s evil, do you not?” Trump largely dodged the question, saying that the Russian leader has “changed,” adding, “If I were dealing with him, he wouldn’t have changed.”
According to the CQ transcript, it led Hannity to try again. “I’ve known you well over 25 years,” the host said. “And when you got criticized for saying that Vladimir Putin is ‘smart,’ we’ve had many conversations, and you’ve often quoted to me Sun Tzu, ‘The Art of War’: ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ Is that how you viewed Vladimir? Did you view Vladimir Putin and people like President Xi and Kim Jong Un and the Iranian mullahs as enemies that you needed to keep close?”
Trump seemed reluctant to accept the premise. “I got along with these people; I got along with them well,” the Republican replied. He added, “I got along with [Kim Jong Un] well. We understood each other. I got along with Putin. I got along with Xi.”
The determined host pressed on, clearly trying to get the answer he was looking for.
“I want to understand your thinking, though, and the thinking is, we got along [with these foreign adversaries] but you knew that they were looking out for their interests at all times. And you understood that they were capable of evil things.”
Trump still wouldn’t bite. “Putin is for Russia,” the former president said, before blaming the crisis in Ukraine on President Joe Biden.
The Republican concluded, “Putin will tell you this — if he was telling the truth, and I am sure he has told it to all of his inner sanctum — nobody was tougher on Russia than me.”
First, Trump’s record of weakness toward Russia is overwhelming. And second, Trump couldn’t even bring himself to get tough with Putin in this interview.