At a certain level, Donald Trump must realize that his spirited defenses of Russian President Vladimir Putin do his campaign no favors -- but the Republican nominee just can't seem to help himself.Earlier this week, Trump said he'd like to incorporate the Russian autocrat into his post-election presidential transition process, effectively rewarding Putin for suspected criminal efforts surrounding intervention in the American election. Last night, Trump read from the same script, pretending Russia may have had nothing to do with the recent email hacks -- ignoring his own intelligence briefings that told him the opposite -- and raving about Putin "outsmarting" U.S. leaders.Trump also referred to the START arms agreement as "the start up," and proceeded to get every relevant detail of the policy wrong.The result was a stunning exchange, starting with Hillary Clinton's explanation that Putin would "rather have a puppet as president of the United States."
TRUMP: No puppet. No puppet.CLINTON: And it's pretty clear...TRUMP: You're the puppet!CLINTON: It's pretty clear you won't admit...TRUMP: No, you're the puppet.
Yes, Americans were treated to a debate in which one of the candidates effectively rolled out the "I know you are but what am I" defense when discussing foreign policy.Substantively, it was worse than the transcript suggests. In practical terms, Trump defended Putin, made excuses for Putin, rejected evidence of wrongdoing implicating Putin, praised Putin, and then said Clinton is actually "the puppet" for the Russian government.I'm sure someone, somewhere, will make the case that Trump's posture was coherent, but I'm less sure how they'll do so with a straight face.