Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Saturday that anyone who criticizes the warm compliments he has swapped with Russian President Vladimir Putin is simply "jealous as hell." Although Putin has been accused of a lengthy list of human rights violations, Trump has maintained that Russia could be a powerful partner for the United States -- and one that could help the country save some money.
"You know, he feels good about me. I feel, frankly, good about him. I think that we can do things with Russia that are to our advantage... It's a mutual advantage," Trump said during a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Saturday afternoon. "Now, they're jealous as hell because he's not mentioning these people. He's not going to mention them, so they're jealous as hell. So a couple of them came out with: 'Oh, well, you don't want to be friends.' Oh no, we don't want to be friends. No, we want to spend another five trillion dollars continuing to fight. We gotta be smart. Now, we gotta really be smart because we don't have any money any more. You know we're a poor nation -- we're a debtor nation."
Putin gave Trump a strong endorsement during a wide-ranging press conference on Thursday, calling the Republican frontrunner "brilliant" and "talented without doubt." In interviews in the days following, Trump lavished praise back on Putin, prompting some criticism from fellow Republicans. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the two "a match made in heaven." Ohio Gov. John Kasich's campaign created a satirical website, trump-putin2016.com, promoting Putin as Trump's running mate under the slogan "Make Tyranny Great Again."
In a MSNBC interview on Friday morning, Trump seemed to shrug off accusations that Putin kills journalists and those who don't politically agree with him, noting that the United States "does plenty of killing, too." Former GOP nominee Mitt Romney then tweeted:
Important distinction: thug Putin kills journalists and opponents; our presidents kill terrorists and enemy combatants.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) December 18, 2015
Trump mentioned Putin twice during his 75-minute rally on Saturday: first within minutes of taking the stage, then again about 30 minutes into his remarks as he warned the crowd of the country's ballooning debt.
"Isn't it sort of nice if, like, countries that we're always fighting with, maybe we get along? Let them do..." Trump said early in the rally, as he was drowned out by cheers. "Right? I mean, look: We're all tough guys. But wouldn't it be nice if, like, Russia and us could knock out an enemy together? Not us bear the full cost, sometimes? You know, we're always fighting."
Trump then said that some of his GOP rivals have suggested that they would refuse to meet with Putin or work with him.
"Then what do they want to do? They want to have a World War III, okay? World War III. For what? For what?" Trump said. "And they have problems, we all have problems. Russia has got plenty of problems. But I'll tell you what: If Putin likes me, and if he thinks that I'm a good, smart person -- which I hope he believes, you know, I am. Actually he's right, I am brilliant. You know that, right?"
Trump was again drowned out by cheers from about 1,500 people. When they quieted down, he started again.
"But, you know what? If he says something positive, that's a good thing," Trump said. "That's not a bad thing. They try and turn it around, and it's not to be turned around. This is good. This would be a great start. If you think about the money we spend fighting on everybody -- and we have to rebuild our country."
Later during the rally, Trump brought Putin up again, as he discussed the national debt, and this time accused his rivals of being jealous of his relationship with the Russian leader.