What to make of Vladimir Putin saying such nice things about Donald Trump?
I guess half of it depends on which side of the Trump fence you're on. I'm pretty sure everybody's biases will be confirmed.
But perhaps the bigger question is which side of the Trump fence Putin is on. Which is to say, are his pro-Trump comments sincere?
“There is no doubt that he is a very bright and talented man,” the Russian leader said. “It is not our business to assess his merits; that is up to the U.S. voters. But he is an absolute leader of the presidential race."The first part is something that the more fierce of Trump-haters (hey Paula Simons, how are you doing today?) will probably still deny: their visceral animal disgust at his beliefs is so strong that it blinds them to pretty much everybody. However it's a fairly anodyne statement when you come right down to it.
The bigger question is in the latter half of his quote. "He is an absolute leader of the presidential race". What the hell does that even mean? Is Putin just expressing a cold mathematical fact† related to his poll numbers? Or is it instead more of an attempt to actually speak about Trump's leadership abilities?
Which comes to the question of whether or not Putin believes it. Much of what Putin says is hard to jive with the facts, though it's worth noting that this three hour talk caused him to accidentally speak much more plainly about the Crimea incident than he's ever done before. He may actually believe Trump is a strong leader and wished to express his appreciation. This would be a big difference between his recent treatment of another strong leader, namely Stephen Harper, who Putin basically accused of being President Monkey's toady. Putin might really admire Trump, which on a certain level makes sense. Both men have a certain bombast to them (Trump's is more vocal, Putin's is more physical) that belies a much more strategic mind underneath. They both hope that you get so distracted by their naked plays for attention that you assume that they're just an airhead. Neither is, of course, and Putin might just be giving "The Donald" a little professional courtesy. After all, Trump did the same for him two months ago.
The other possibility, of course, is that Putin doesn't really mean what he's saying and instead is using that shrewd strategic mind in the subtle ways that only a Russian truly can. In other words, knowing that he's not popular in the United States and Republicans in particular are interested in butting heads with the Russians, he's trolling them: saying such nice things about Trump to try and discourage people from voting Trump. Whether he's meaning to do this because he actually does fear having to sit across from a summit table with Trump as Mark Steyn suggests, or he's just playing around to see how much he can affect Trump's approval ratings as a feeler exercise, it's still worth considering. If you believe left-wing Bloomberg on the matter, Putin doesn't have to fear Trump anyways. Of course, Bershidsky wouldn't like the notion that Putin legitimately believes Trump to be a strong leader either, so from his perspective neither scenario is possible. I suppose he just didn't say it? Yeah, let's go with that.
Putin also, of course, praised John Kerry for his handling of the Syrian crisis. This is another data point in the "playing around with Trump" column, since after all nobody believes Kerry has done a good job in the Middle East. Putin apparently delivered that line while barely cracking a smile.
† It would be fitting for a Russian