Trumpian triumphs come from being the toughest hombre at the shootout, or riding in on a white horse to save America the Greatest from bad guys, like China or Mexico but never apparently Russia. Au contraire: Trump sees "Russia being a really big asset to our country." Right, our great ally? Does that not frame a Trump White House as perverse, rightwing wet-dream: replace the emasculated Obama with a no-nonsense, debate-dispatching Great Decider, the national savior who grabs history by the horns, a cross of Putin with John Wayne?
Notably, Trump's praise of Putin answered Republican Joe Scarborough, who challenged this unalloyed fandom: Putin "kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries." Oops, so Trump sidestepped, with another facile Obama slam: Putin is "running his country, and at least he's a leader, unlike what we have in this country."
Under duress, Trump eventually did condemn killing journalists and political adversaries, but reinforced that "strong leaders" must do what must be done, endorsing the autocratic justification the end justifies the means. What Trump revealed here is not just worship of power, but the embrace, and delight, of the psychopath who lords over the weak "losers' -- like those during his TV schlock who deserved firing, with a sneer.
Putin's Inscrutable Soul?
Not all on the right endorse Putin, especially GOP Cold Warriors who distain Trump, too. Jeb Bush judges Putin "a bully," indeed "one of the great despots of our time" while Marco Rubio dismisses him as "gangster and thug." Is that better or worse than Jeb calling Trump "unhinged"? Imagine "low-energy" Jeb vs. powerhouse Putin. And were Putin ever to rout the Donald, guess whose thin-skin would erupt with insulting personal rejoinders? Egotists like Putin or Trump hate losing, but on the world stage the Russian warrior keeps his cool.
Finally, can we ignore definitive input from our smartest president -- or followup by a feisty Joe Biden. Looking deeply into Putin's eyes, Dubya the Dim perceived a "sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country." And even before Putin's born-again return to orthodox Christianity.
A decade later, as Joe Biden recalled in a New Yorker profile: "I had an interpreter, and when [Putin] was showing me his office I said, 'It's amazing what capitalism will do, won't it? A magnificent office!' And he laughed. As I turned, I was this close to him." Biden held his hand a few inches from his nose. "I said, 'Mr. Prime Minister, I'm looking into your eyes, and I don't think you have a soul' . . . And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, 'We understand one another.' "
And neither time did Putin have to take off his shirt, mug for the camera or give any bear a hug. Is the inscrutable Putin truly an epic world leader for the ages -- or simply superior to today's paltry selection?
(Article changed on December 20, 2015 at 15:29)