Last week—before Donald Trump schlonged Hillary Clinton and charitably pledged not to kill journalists—there was a curious episode involving the GOP front-runner and Russian President Vladimir Putin that remains, even after the passage of several news cycles, worthy of a few dollops of reflection, since it may provide a true key to understanding Trump.
It all began when the Russian strongman hailed Trump as “a very bright and talented man.” He also pointed out the obvious: that Trump was the leader in the GOP presidential race. Trump replied with a bear hug. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, he proudly commented, “When people call you brilliant, it’s always good, especially when the person heads up Russia.” Though host Joe Scarborough pressed Trump, noting that several journalists critical of the Putin regime have been slain, the tycoon turned politician stuck with his admiration for Putin and replied, “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country.”
Days later, Trump declined to distance himself from his Putin-friendly remarks. He insisted it would be good for the United States if he became president because Putin respected him. Trump also defended Putin, saying, “If he has killed reporters, I think that’s terrible. But this isn’t like somebody that’s stood with a gun and he’s, you know, taken the blame or he’s admitted that he’s killed. He’s always denied it.” (According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, “Russia remains the worst country in Europe and Central Asia region at prosecuting journalists’ killers…[In] nearly 90 percent of murders of journalists in Russia, no one is convicted.”)