President Donald Trump can find a mean word to say about almost anyone: Pope Francis, a Gold Star family, Arizona Sen. John McCain, a disabled reporter, and on and on and on.
One person appears to be an exception to that rule: Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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Time and time again over his nearly 18 months in office, Trump has resisted saying anything bad about Putin. Which is weird because, well, Russia conducted a broad and deep attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election. And which is relevant because Trump is meeting with Putin on Monday, despite the fact that special counsel Robert Mueller indicted a dozen Russians on Friday because of their connections to the election meddling operation.
I asked Point-er Brenna Williams to dig up everything – or as much as she could find – Trump has said about Putin since he was inaugurated in January 2017. Though not a comprehensive list, here are some of the most notable things the President has said about his Russian counterpart – in reverse chronological order. (You can also see what Trump said about Putin – HINT: It’s almost all nice stuff – before he became President.)
1. “Congratulations to France, who played extraordinary soccer, on winning the 2018 World Cup. Additionally, congratulations to President Putin and Russia for putting on a truly great World Cup Tournament – one of the best ever!”
2. “I’d have a very good relationship with President Putin if we spend time together.”
3. “I think that we would have a chance to have a very good relationship with Russia and a very good chance – a very good relationship with President Putin.”
4. “You know what? Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We’re all fine.”
5. “I think I could have a very good relationship with President Putin.”
6. “I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also). The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing…”
7. “I believe that President Putin really feels, and he feels strongly, that he did not meddle in our election.”
8. “But I think Putin and I — President Putin and I would have a great relationship, and that would be great for both countries.
9. “So you look at that, and you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with that. Now, you’re not going to get into an argument.”
10. “President Putin and I have been discussing various things and I think it’s going very well. We’ve some very, very good talks. We’re going to have a talk now and obviously that will continue. But we look forward to a lot of good, positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everybody concerned.”
11. “Look, it would be much easier for me to be tough on Russia, but then we’re not going to make a deal.”
So why is Trump so loath to say a negative word about Putin? Here are a few theories – ranked from most to least favorable for Trump:
- He believes that geopolitical concerns – Russia’s role in dealing with North Korea, Syria etc. – trump (ahem) everything else. Under that line of thinking, Trump sees Russia (and Putin) as a sort of necessary evil. He avoids calling out Putin as part of an effort to achieve the greater good.
- Trump is a deals guy. He knows that you can’t make deals with someone if you can’t get in a room with that person. And you can’t get into a room with someone if all you do is badmouth him or her.
- Trump is drawn to strongmen with a tinge – or more than a tinge – of authoritarianism in their leadership style. There’s a part of him that admires Putin’s ability to command total fealty – and not have to deal with an adversarial (aka independent) media.
What’s clear is that Trump isn’t going to emerge from Monday’s summit/meeting – sum-meeting? – with much to say about Putin that’s negative. He hasn’t done it in 18 months as President – and two more years as a candidate – and he ain’t going to start on Monday in Helsinki.
So don’t hold your breath.