Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Bedford, N.H. (John Locher/AP)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gave a surprising response Thursday when asked to name a world leader he respects. He named Germany’s Angela Merkel, whom he has regularly criticized on the campaign trail over her refugee policies.

“Well, I think Merkel is a really great world leader, but I was very disappointed ... with the whole thing on immigration. I think it’s a big problem,” Trump told New England Cable News. “I was always a Merkel person. But I think she made a very tragic mistake a year and a half ago.”

Trump was asked to name “a world leader who you admire, respect, would like to emulate.”

The question came as Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson faced ridicule for drawing a blank when asked to name his favorite world leader during a prime time forum on MSNBC. Johnson called it an “Aleppo moment,” referencing another embarrassing moment earlier this month when he was asked about the humanitarian crisis in the Syrian city and he responded by asking, “What is Aleppo?”

Trump’s response came as a surprise to political observers and campaign reporters. He has regularly blasted Merkel on the campaign trail, assailing her for allowing Syrian refugees into her country and accusing her policies of expanding crime in the country. Trump fumed in December when Merkel was picked as Time magazine's person of the year, tweeting that they chose someone who was “ruining Germany.”

Last month, during a speech on fighting terrorism, Trump drew an unflattering comparison between the German chancellor and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

“Hillary Clinton wants to be America's Angela Merkel. It's true. And you know what a disaster this massive immigration has been to Germany and the people of Germany,” Trump said during the speech in Ohio. “Crime has risen to levels they thought they would never, ever see. It is a catastrophe.”

Clinton herself said that Merkel is her favorite world leader Thursday, during a question-and-answer session with reporters on her campaign plane.

“I like a lot of the world leaders. One of my favorites is Angela Merkel, because I think she's been an extraordinary strong leader during difficult times in Europe,” she said.