The Corner

Trump, Putin, and the GOP

One of the most remarkable things about the convention last night was that Governor Christie went after Hillary on Russia and Putin. I will quote him:

. . . she said our goal was to strengthen Russia.

Strengthen an adversary led by a dictator who dreams of reassembling the old Soviet empire? What a dangerous lack of judgment.

Once again, as a flawed evaluator of dictators and failed strategist who has permitted Russia back in as a major player in the Middle East, is Hillary Clinton guilty or not guilty?

I wondered whether Christie was guilty of forgetting whom he was supporting for president. Is there a greater admirer of Vladimir Putin in mainstream American politics than Donald J. Trump?

I’m going to excerpt a piece I wrote about Trump last month:

What if a foreign strongman is “nice” to Trump? Late last year, Putin said of Trump, “He’s a really brilliant and talented person, without any doubt.”

Trump phoned in to Morning Joe, for an interview. Mika Brzezinski asked him whether he liked Putin’s comment. “Sure,” he purred. “When people call you brilliant, it’s always good, especially when the person heads up Russia.”

Joe Scarborough interjected, “Well, he’s also a person that kills journalists and political opponents and invades countries. Obviously, that would be a concern, would it not?” Trump replied, “He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country.”

“But again,” said Scarborough, “he kills journalists that don’t agree with him.” Trump replied, “Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe.”

For decades, conservatives have decried this kind of moral equivalence — a false equivalence — from the Left. Now it abides in the Republican nominee for president.

Finally, Scarborough got Trump to agree that killing political opponents is not right. Then he asked about the U.S.-Russia relationship in a Trump administration.

“Well, I think it would be good,” said Trump. “I’ve always felt, you know, fine about Putin. I think that he is a strong leader, he’s a powerful leader, he’s represented his country — that’s the way the country is being represented. He’s actually got popularity within his country. They respect him as a leader, certainly over the last couple of years they’ve respected him as the leader. I think he’s up in the 80s, which is, you know — you see where Obama’s in the 30s and low 40s, and, you know, he’s up in the 80s.”

Trump was referring to polls.

Earlier this year, I interviewed George W. Bush, who brought up Putin, unprompted, in a discussion of strongmen and dictators. “People say, ‘He’s the most popular guy in Russia.’ I say, ‘Yeah, I’d be popular too if I owned NBC,’” and the other networks.

So, Putin flattered Trump, and Trump responded with great warmth and support. What if the mullahs in Iran, for example, flattered him?

It will be interesting to see Trump and Hillary debate about Putin, and other matters. What a year, what a year. An annus horribilis.

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