Two months before Election Day, Donald Trump told Jimmy Fallon of Russian President Vladimir Putin, “I don’t know him, and I know nothing about him, really.” Now that U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Putin personally waged a cyber campaign to get Trump elected, the president-elect has changed his tune.
“I always knew he was very smart!” Trump tweeted of his new comrade “V. Putin,” praising the Russian leader’s “great move” to delay expelling U.S. diplomats from Russia in response to new sanctions by President Obama.
But if Trump’s man crush on Putin seemed to come as a surprise, one need only look back at this prescient segment from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show to see the origin of a certain type of Republican’s drift away from Cold War hysteria and towards a full-on embrace of Russia’s strongman leader.
“Much of the world now sees Putin for what he is, a semi-delusional autocrat who views the dissolution of the Soviet Union as one of the greatest tragedies of the late 20th century and has confused his own geopolitical propaganda for reality,” Stewart said in March of 2014, shortly after Russia seized control of Crimea and more than a year before Trump announced his presidential run. “I mean, who would be fooled by this guy’s bullshit?”
From there, Stewart highlighted comments from Bill O’Reilly, Rudy Giuliani, Eric Bolling, Sarah Palin and others, who heaped praise on Putin’s impulsive leadership style. “That’s not what you call a leader!” the host said. “Makes a quick decision and everyone reacts? That’s what you call a toddler.” He could have been talking about Trump.
Those same conservative pundits compared Putin’s image as a tiger-wrestling oil titan to a caricature of the “mom jeans”-wearing President Obama. Sean Hannity infamously contrasted that “muscular” image of Putin to one of Obama riding a bicycle and wearing a helmet.
But as Stewart helpfully pointed out, those shirtless photos of Putin riding horses are merely “propaganda.”
The former Daily Show host took his point even further by asking conservatives, “How would you feel if Obama did act a bit more authoritarian?” Cut to Hannity and the rest accusing Obama of acting like a “king” and a “dictator” for taking executive action. “Let me see if I have this straight,” Stewart said. “Barack Obama is a weak, mom jeans-wearing... dictator king!”
In another question that could describe our president-elect, Stewart asked, “What happened to these people as children that has enabled this love-hate relationship with authoritarian figures and the inherent cognitive dissonance that goes along with such a schism?”
The only difference with Trump is that he forgot to include the “hate” part.