GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump was full of praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday morning, saying he has always "felt fine" about the Russian dictator and touting his poll numbers for being much higher than President Barack Obama's.
"I think that he's a strong leader," Trump told MSNBC's "Morning Joe"
program about Putin, stunning host Joe Scarborough. "He's a powerful leader."
Further, Trump said that Russians respect Putin as a leader, and his poll numbers show that.
"I think he's up in the 80s. You see where Obama's in the 30s and low
40s. And he's up in the 80s," Trump said. "And I don't know who does the polls. Maybe he does the polls, but I think they're done by American companies, actually."
On Thursday, Putin hailed Trump
as the "absolute leader" in the presidential race and praised his talk about building a deeper relationship with Russia.
Trump is "a very colorful character and talented," Putin said after his annual three-hour press conference in Russia. "He's said that he wants to move to a new level of ties, closer and deeper ties with Russia. How couldn't we welcome that? Of course we welcome it."
"Sure, when people call you 'brilliant' it's always good. Especially when the person heads up Russia," Trump told show co-host Mika Brzezinski.
But, Scarborough pointed out, Putin is "also a person who kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries. Obviously that would be a concern, would it not?"
"He's running his country, and at least he's a leader," Trump retorted. "Unlike what we have in this country."
"But again: He kills journalists that don't agree with him," Scarborough said.
Trump replied that there is "a lot of killing going on" around the world, and then accused Scarborough of asking him something different.
"I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe," Trump told him. "There's a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that's the way it is. But you didn't ask me [that] question, you asked me a different question. So that's fine."
Scarborough admitted to being confused, and asked Trump if he condemns Putin "killing journalists and political opponents."
"Oh sure, absolutely," Trump told him.
Trump also pushed back on questions about Putin's role in Ukraine and the Crimea, criticizing Germany and other nearby countries for not being more involved in the the threat of Putin spreading his hold.
"I have friends from Ukraine and they're fantastic people, but when I see those countries not engaged, and we're totally engaged, I ask myself, here's this big monstrous country, Germany, and they hardly speak up, they accept his oil and gas and lots of other things and here we are fighting like hell."
Further, he said the the United States is $19 trillion in debt, and nothing but problems in this country, but "we're sitting on a big fat beautiful bubble that's ready to explode, financial bubble, I'm talking about."
And with all that, "we're always at the forefront of leading the charge. I think other countries have to get involved with that."
Scarborough argued that if there is strong American leadership, other countries will follow, but Trump replied that "maybe we should do a little bit of following" and allow Ukraine's neighbors to take a more active role.
"I don't see a lot of active role from the neighbors around Ukraine," Trump said. "I see us saying get out of Ukraine and I would like to see enthusiasm from the people directly affected."
And while Obama is accused by many of "leading from behind," Trump said he doesn't consider stepping back in the same way.
"I want to see our country get rebuilt again," he said. "Our country is falling apart frankly . . . Our whole country is a mess and you know, you're asking me a question. There's lots of things we can do. But one of things I want to do is make America great again."
Further, Trump said, the United States needs to rebuild its military, but "that doesn't mean we have to use it."
Trump later in the show said he thinks Russia could be a "big asset to our country, and I think that's the way it's going to be. They're a powerful nation and they have a big military base and force and I think there can be a lot of good things happen with Russia, if we get along well and they respect us."
Putin does not like Obama, Trump said, and the feelings are mutual.
"As a person that does deals all the time, it's all about people," Trump said. "Everything's about people. I watch those two sitting in two chairs looking at each other and I say, 'wow, that's really bad chemistry.'"
But Russia can be a "positive force with respect," said Trump, praising Putin for bombing ISIS after starting out bombing other targets in Syria.
"Anybody that wants to bomb ISIS, congratulations, join the line," he said. "I'm all for you."
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