Russian President Vladimir Putin has given a glowing review of one of the most controversial candidates for the U.S. presidency, telling Russian media that Donald Trump was an absolute leader in the race. Putin made the comments Thursday to Russian news agency Interfax after taking reporter questions for three hours as part of his annual press conference in Moscow.
Some American leaders find it easier than others to get along with Russian President Vladimir Putin. George W. Bush, for example, once told the world that he’d looked into Putin’s eyes and “was able to get a sense of his soul.” The Republican not only vouched for the former KGB official’s character, he also bragged about calling him “Vladimir” because the two were so close.
It's safe to say the relationship between Putin and President Obama is quite a bit cooler.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, meanwhile, believes he can restore a sense of chumminess with the Russian autocrat. “I believe we will have a very good relationship with Russia," Trump told CBS in September. "I believe that I will have a very good relationship with Putin."
Evidently, the feelings are mutual.
I should note that some of the translations vary a bit. BuzzFeed, for example, citing the Interfax news wire, quoted Putin as saying about Trump, “He’s a really brilliant and talented person, without any doubt. It’s not our job to judge his qualities, that’s a job for American voters, but he’s the absolute leader in the presidential race." I've seen other reports with slightly different phrasing.
Putin reportedly added, “He says he wants to move on to a new, more substantial relationship, a deeper relationship with Russia; how can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome that."
It might be tempting to think this would be an unwelcome development for Trump's GOP campaign. After all, Putin isn't especially popular with the American mainstream, so who would want to be the Russian autocrat's favorite U.S. presidential candidate?
But the politics are a bit more complicated than that, in large part because American Republicans have repeatedly praised Putin in recent years, singling him out as the kind of world leader they respect and admire. It's created an odd form of partisan cognitive dissonance: Republicans often seem impressed by those who vow to stand up to Putin, even while pointing to the Russian president as a model of strength.
As for the Putin-Trump parallels, is anyone really surprised that the two would admire each other from afar? Consider the similarities: Self-aggrandizing boasts? Check. Delusions of grandeur? Checkity check. An over-reliance on authoritarian tendencies? Big ol' check.
Put it this way: of all the 2016 presidential candidates, who seems the most likely to eagerly wrestle a bear for the cameras?