Donald Trump's running mate criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin during Tuesday night's vice-presidential debate, calling the leader "small" and "bullying."
Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana seemed to be attempting to square Trump's previous praise for Putin as a strong leader with the general view in the US that Putin is dangerous and works against US interests.
Hillary Clinton's running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, went after Pence at the debate over Trump's comments on Putin, and Pence responded with an explanation that included his accusing the Russian leader of being a bully. He was also sure to characterize the US as stronger than Russia, even though Trump has said Putin has "very strong control over his country."
"This whole Putin thing — America is stronger than Russia," Pence said. "The whole economy is 16 times larger than the Russian economy. America's political system is superior to the crony, corrupt, capitalist system in Russia in every way."
He continued: "When Donald Trump and I observe that, as I've said, in Syria, in Iran, in Ukraine, that the small and bullying leader of Russia has been stronger on the world stage than this administration, that's stating painful facts. That's not an endorsement of Vladimir Putin — that's an indictment of the weak and feckless leadership of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama."
Putin said during the campaign cycle that Trump was "very talented," and Trump in turn said it was a "great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond." Trump has also repeatedly said that if he wins the presidency in November, he'd like to strengthen ties with Russia and work with Putin to defeat the terrorist group ISIS.
This isn't the first time Pence has had to answer for Trump's praise of Putin.
Last month, Pence told CNN it was "inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country."
But despite this assessment, Pence calling Putin "small" doesn't seem to fit with Trump's portrait of Putin as a strong leader.
After the debate on Tuesday, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway reportedly declined to tell reporters whether Trump agreed with Pence's characterization of Putin as "small" and "bullying."
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