When Russian President Vladimir Putin commented on Donald Trump during a press conference this week, it sparked international headlines, though some of the remarks appear to have been lost in translation. Initial reports suggested the Russian autocrat called the Republican "brilliant," though other translations suggest Putin wasn't being quite so positive or effusive.
Nevertheless, Trump chose to believe the most complimentary versions of the story, and responded to the Russian president this morning.
Donald Trump hesitated on Friday to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin for allegations the Kremlin has killed high-profile journalists critical of the leader, saying "our country does plenty of killing also."
When I first saw tweets pop up on this early this morning, I hoped Trump was being misquoted. Alas, he wasn't.
During his latest MSNBC appearance, Trump began by basking in Putin's alleged praise, saying that “when people call you 'brilliant,' it’s always good, especially when the person heads up Russia.”
Reminded that the Russian president has been accused of killing journalists and political rivals, on top of his invasions of neighboring countries, Trump responded, “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, you know unlike what we have in this country."
Told once more than we're talking about a head of state who's allegedly ordered journalists to be murdered, Trump effectively said he doesn't care. “Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also," the Republican candidate responded.
Before the segment ended, Trump was asked, “You obviously condemn Vladimir Putin killing journalists and political opponents, right?” The Republican frontrunner added, “Oh sure, absolutely."
In a normal year, in a mainstream party, this is the sort of interview that would end a presidential campaign. But this year with this candidate and this party, it's just another weekday morning -- one in which a presidential contender celebrates an authoritarian Russian president and dismisses the relevance of targeted media assassinations because the United States "does plenty of killing."
As for Trump's specific praise of Putin's leadership style, don't forget that there's a strain of Republican thought that agrees with this nonsense. In March 2014, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) said of Putin, “That’s what you call a leader.”
Five months later, Fox News’ Kimberly Guilfoyle said she wanted Putin to temporarily serve as “head of the United States” so the campaign against ISIS would be “done right.” (In retrospect, the irony of this is kind of hilarious.)
Comments like these are a reminder of how difficult it is to make sense of contemporary Republican thought, because the contradictions are so profound. On the one hand, Republicans are enraged when President Obama takes charge, governs while circumventing Congress, and shows leadership.
On the other hand, high-profile Republicans also seem to ask regularly, "Why can't Obama be more like a Russian authoritarian?"