FOR DONALD Trump, nothing merits respect more than high poll numbers, including his own, which the Republican presidential hopeful equates with strength, intelligence and success. In Mr. Trump’s worldview, that simplistic formulation is reason alone to accord deference and esteem to Vladimir Putin — never mind that the Russian president is an autocrat whose popularity at home rests in no small measure on having silenced critics whose views, were they allowed a public airing, might put a crimp in his approval rating.
For his part, Mr. Putin, whose cynicism and snarling vulgarity are mirrored in Mr. Trump’s own political oratory, sees in the U.S. mogul a man after his own heart. For the Russian president, who once recommended that a journalist get circumcised, Mr. Trump’s suggestion that Fox News’s Megyn Kelly was menstruating when she challenged him must have seemed a bon mot, if a little too subtle for the Russian’s taste. Ditto Mr. Trump’s indulgence and outright approval of his supporters’ use of violence.
Their mutual admiration society got a public airing this week when the Russian leader confessed his admiration for Mr. Trump (“a very bright and talented man” and an “absolute leader in the presidential race”) and Mr. Trump immediately returned the favor, saying he was “greatly honored” by Mr. Putin’s praise.
So what if Mr. Putin has ordered the killing of journalists and the invasion of Crimea, Mr. Trump said Friday, in response to a question from MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, on “Morning Joe.” “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader,” said Mr. Trump. “Unlike what we have in this country.”
What the two men share, and recognize in each other, goes beyond strong polling numbers, an affinity for incendiary language and a contempt for those (with President Obama leading the list) they regard as weak. What really attracts them is a common worldview in which money talks and democratic norms are for suckers.
Much as Mr. Putin has muzzled free expression in the media, marginalized political opponents and scrapped contested elections, Mr. Trump has blithely endorsed shutting down parts of the Internet, praised President Franklin D. Roosevelt for interning Japanese Americans during World War II and openly contemplated registering Muslims in America.
Where Mr. Putin sees corruption as the norm, Mr. Trump similarly regards public service as a marketplace in which anyone and everyone can be bought. “I give to everybody,” Mr. Trump told a New Hampshire audience in the summer. “They do whatever I want. It’s true.”
Granted, Mr. Trump, his rhetoric notwithstanding, is hardly in Mr. Putin’s league as a vicious tyrant. Mr. Trump’s critics are subjected only to the venom of his insults; Mr. Putin’s have a way of ending up in prison, or shot to death in the street.
But believe the American tycoon when he says that Mr. Putin is a man with whom he would “get along,” and who, “in terms of leadership, he’s getting an ‘A.’ ” The feeling is mutual, and revealing.