Donald Trump took some criticism last week for his defense of Russian President Vladimir Putin – specifically for expressing admiration for his leadership and apparent indifference to the fact that a surprising number of Putin’s political adversaries wind up in jail, hospital, or the cemetery. Faced with the backlash, Trump did what he’s been doing with great success, ever since entering the presidential contest in June: He doubled down.
Appearing on a radio talk show broadcast from the early caucus state of Iowa, Trump sung the praises of the Russian military and said he saw great potential through what he imagines would be a very positive relationship between himself and Putin, for the two countries to be a “positive force” together.
“I’ve always had a good instinct about Putin,” Trump said in an interview with host Simon Conway. “I just feel that that’s a guy—and I can analyze people and you’re not always right, and it could be that I won’t like him – but I’ve always had a good feeling about him…. I know that Obama and him [sic] have never gotten along. I watched the two of them sitting in their two chairs as the press is taking their pictures and you can see there’s hatred in both cases, all right?”
As the relationship between the U.S. and Russia stands now, he said, “We’ve been hurt by Russia and Russia is always beating us out.”
However, he said, under President Trump that dynamic would change. And – like getting Mexico to pay for a border wall – the change will begin with getting Russia to do the dirty work of getting rid of the terror group ISIS for us.
“Russia is a big powerful country with a powerful military, Trump said. “We have to knock out ISIS. You know that I’ve been in favor of Russia bombing the hell out of them as soon as the idea was broached.”
Trump belittled his opponents for the Republican presidential nomination – at least in the public eye – who have argued against allowing Russia to take the lead in fighting ISIS.
“We don’t have to spent a million dollars an hour on bombing,” he said. “Now we have to bomb… I’m all for that. But if other people want to do it, I’m all for it.”
“We actually had senators, you know, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, these guys are saying, like, if we let Russia do it, it’s like we’re losing prestige or something. There’s no prestige,” he said. “We want to get rid of ISIS, we want to get rid of them effectively, surgically, fast and strong.
“But you know, I really believe that Russia and the United States can be a positive force together, as opposed to really working negatively with each other all the time.”
Last week, in a public press conference, Putin praised Trump as a talented man who was the “absolute leader” in the presidential primary race. To the surprise of some in the media, Trump not only accepted the praise, but seemed to glory in it, saying that is was a “great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”
Over the weekend, Trump appeared on ABC’s This Week, and sparred with host George Stephanopolous over the issue of Putin’s involvement in the deaths of journalists, including investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya.
Trump appeared to rake the most literal possible interpretation of the host’s wording – that Putin had personally murdered journalists – and pushed back against that. “I’m saying when you say a man has killed reporters, I’d like you to prove it,” Trump said. “And I’m saying it would be a terrible thing if it were true. But I have never seen any information or any proof that he killed reporters.”
Russia’s state-sponsored media have had a field day with the billionaire former reality television star’s defense of Putin. On Monday, notorious Kremlin mouthpiece RT ran a glowing story with the headline: “‘Putin killed reporters? Prove it!’ – Trump to ABC show host.”