WASHINGTON, December 24, 2015 — On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd interviewed GOP frontrunner for the White House Donald Trump. Trump was in classic form, calling himself the “Ernest Hemingway” of social media and still expounding his belief in the undocumented, widespread celebration of the terror event of Sept. 11 in New Jersey.
The conversation eventually turned to the recent budding bromance between the leading Republican and Vladimir Putin of Russia. During an end-of-year news conference, Putin weighed in on the 2016 presidential campaign, saying of Trump, “He is a bright and talented person without any doubt.” Putin added that Trump is “an outstanding and talented personality.” He declared Trump “the absolute leader of the presidential race,” according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
This gave Trump the chance to be presidential in the context of geopolitics. He could have said, “That’s nice, but it does not take away from the destructive policies that Putin has exercised on the world stage, particularly in the Middle East and Ukraine.” Or, “I appreciate his comments, but it would be great if he governed as the leader of a country that supported free and open elections and did not literally kill political opposition.” But Trump—perhaps due to ego—acts as though anyone who likes him is worthy of admiration, regardless of his behavior or philosophy.
When asked by Todd about Putin, Trump jumped right in:
“He is a strong leader. What am I gonna say, he’s a weak leader? He’s making mincemeat out of our President. He is a strong leader. I mean, you would like me to call him a weak leader, he’s a strong leader. And I’m not going to be politically correct.
“He’s got an 80 percent approval rating done by pollsters from, I understand, this country, okay? So it’s not even done by his pollsters. He’s very popular within Russia. Now that may change, but I didn’t say anything one way or the other. He came out with a very nice statement about me and I said, ‘That’s very nice, I’m honored by it.’
“And it would be very nice if we got along with Russia, Chuck, it’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. He cannot stand our president. He doesn’t like President Obama. I think it would be a positive thing if Russia and the United States actually got along and they could work to the mutual good of getting rid of ISIS and clean things up. I mean, right now, we don’t get along with them at all.”
Eighty percent approval rating? In a country where they throw viable political opposition in jail and kill journalists who write negative stories?
It was bad enough that Trump regurgitates the Pravda-TASS narrative about the Putin regime, but he has become an apologist of Putin’s brutal government. On ABC’s “This Week” he told George Stephanopoulos,
“In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people—I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has. Have you been able to prove that? Do you know the names of the reporters that he’s killed?”
Trump added that it would be “despicable” if Putin indeed had killed journalists. “But I haven’t seen any evidence that he killed anybody, in terms of reporters.” Instead he said Russia is not the only country involved in killing people, pointing the finger at the United States without naming specifics.
It would be interesting to see how Trump would have reacted if his GOP opponents received praise from Putin. He may have ranted that the Russian leader and his policies are terrible, but we will never know that.
Putin is at the very least odd in his own right, but he is undoubtedly intelligent. Perhaps Putin believes he can buy the affection of the narcissist Trump with some simple flattery; if so, his belief seems correct.
A Trump administration would be dominated by Trump’s always fragile ego. Those who support him because he can provide a better way will be disappointed to see ego politics reach all new levels in a Trump Administration. American prestige and security will be linked always to the billionaire’s fragile self-esteem.