Donald Trump's interview with host Larry King Thursday on RT, the English language Russian television news network, was embarrassing. Trump's campaign was caught off guard by his comments and struggled for an explanation. "A former CNN superstar, Larry King, has a podcast, and Mr. Trump went on his podcast," explained campaign manager Kellyanne Conway Friday on CNN. "Nobody said it would be on Russian TV."
Trump has been under attack for his repeated praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin. During a presidential forum on NBC Wednesday, Trump said that Putin has been a better leader that President Barack Obama. "Certainly, in that system, he's been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader."
Trump has repeatedly made in clear throughout his campaign that he admires Putin. This has been especially true since Putin heaped praise on Trump at his annual press conference last December. "He is a bright and talented person without doubt," Putin said, "an outstanding and talented personality." Putin, a former KGB officer, knows how to manipulate egos, and no one has a bigger ego than Trump. Trump's response, in the form of a statement, was, "It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond."
Respected? Putin's annexation of Crimea and military intervention of Ukraine led to international condemnation and the imposition of sanctions. Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war on behalf of its tyrannical leader, Bashar al-Assad, has also drawn condemnation and prolonged the conflict. Russia is also looking to play a bigger role in Iran's nuclear program.
Putin rules Russia with an iron fist. Human Rights Watch, a non-government organization advocating human rights, harshly criticizes Russia. "The Kremlin's crackdown on civil society, media, and the Internet took a more sinister turn in 2015 as the government further intensified harassment and persecution of independent critics," the organization says on its website. Putin has turned the country against the West, especially the United States, in an effort to keep tight control. He has successfully shifted blame for Russia's struggling economy from government policies to Western sanctions. Putin has rigorously maintained a corrupt system of government where he and his loyal supporters reap great personal reward.
Punditfact reported earlier this year that 34 journalists have been murdered in Russia since 2000. The international watchdog Freedom House ranks Russia 180 out of 199 countries when it comes to press freedom. Perhaps Trump, who regularly denounces the American media, admires how Putin handles the press. Trump told King, "there's tremendous dishonesty with the media. Not all of it, obviously, but tremendous dishonesty."
Larry King has a regular program on RT, and RT billed the interview as an "exclusive." RT, a Kremlin sponsored network, describes itself as, "an alternative perspective on major global events, and acquaints international audience with a Russian viewpoint." General Michael Flynn, the former director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and now a national security advisor to Trump, attended an RT gala in Moscow last year, and has appeared on the network several times.
In his RT interview, Trump told King that he doesn't think Russia is trying to meddle in the American election. "I think it's probably unlikely. Maybe the Democrats are putting that out -- who knows," he said. "If they are doing something, I hope somebody's going to be able to find out so they can end it. Because that would not be appropriate at all." (However, last July Trump called on the Russians to hack Clinton's e-mails.) Nonetheless, Trump's views on the media and President Obama pretty much align with the Russian viewpoint.
The website Talking Points Memo reported in July, "Trump's financial empire is heavily leveraged and has a deep reliance on capital infusions from oligarchs and other sources of wealth aligned with Putin." Trump's tax returns might shed light on the extent of the investment, but he says he won't release them. Both Trump and Putin have spoken out against NATO, although for different reasons. TPM also reported that Putin has sought to prop up nationalist movements in Europe in part to sow discord in those countries.
Trump is running a nationalist campaign positioning himself as a strong leader, and he is certainly sowing discord. "I alone can fix it," he said in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in July. He has campaigned using bombast and bluster, while seldom offering specific answers to policy questions, like details of his "secret plan to eliminate ISIS." In his Wednesday appearance on NBC, he said, "Under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, I think the generals have been reduced to rubble." He continued, "They have been reduced to a point where it's embarrassing to our country." Of course, he would fire them.
On Wednesday, Trump praised Putin for "having great control over his country." If elected in November, perhaps Tsar Trump will try to assert his control over this country.