“Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day,” Rudolph W. Giuliani
.. “A great leader,” “very reasoned,” and “extremely diplomatic,” was how Mr. Trump himself described Mr. Putin that same year.
.. Mr. Putin is no arch-villain in this understanding of America-Russian relations. Rather, he personifies many of the qualities and attitudes that conservatives have desired in a president: a respect for traditional Christian values, a swelling nationalist pride and an aggressive posture toward foreign adversaries.
In this view, the Russian president is a brilliant tactician, a slayer of murderous Islamic extremists — and not incidentally, a leader who outmaneuvered and emasculated President Barack Obama on the world stage. And because of that, almost any other transgression seems forgivable.
“There are conservatives here who maybe read into Russia things they wish were true in the United States,” .. “And they imagine Russia and Putin as the kind of strong, traditional conservative leader whom they wish they had in the United States.” To these conservatives, she added, “Russia is the true defender of Christian values. We are decadent.”
.. Mr. Trump’s opponents have tried repeatedly to make an issue of the mutual admiration between him and the Russian president, anticipating that Republicans would not tolerate any whiff of sympathy from one of their own toward the leader of what Ronald Reagan called the “evil empire.”
.. “My guess is that Trump voters would say: ‘Hey, you know what? I kind of like the fact that Putin’s endorsed Trump,’ ” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners in December 2015. “At least Putin’s killing terrorists. At least Putin’s made an enemy out of ISIS. We don’t seem to be able to do that.”
.. Kimberly Guilfoyle, a Fox News host who once said Mr. Trump had considered naming her as his press secretary, said that she wished Mr. Putin could be president of the United States for just 48 hours. That way, as she put it, “Americans don’t have to worry and wake up in the morning fearful of a group that’s murderous and horrific like ISIS.”
.. many conservatives now, ironically, echo Mr. Obama, who in 2012 brushed off the warnings of Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent, that Russia was the United States’ “No. 1 geopolitical foe.”
.. “It’s like being raised in a church and someone says, ‘Actually, no, you’re a Buddhist,’ ”
.. The unflattering comparisons with Mr. Obama became personal in 2014 after Mr. Putin invaded Crimea, an act of aggression that was widely condemned by the United States and its allies but praised as a display of brawn and guts by many on the right.
Sarah Palin, for one, questioned Mr. Obama’s “potency” and added that no one had any such doubts about Mr. Putin. “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil,” she told Sean Hannity on Fox News.
.. “He’s looking like a real man,” Mr. Limbaugh declared approvingly in 2014.
.. Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, which has tracked the conservative media’s depiction of the Russian president, described Mr. Putin as taking on “a Paul Bunyan-esque persona among this audience.”
.. Mr. Putin’s mystique for conservatives resembles in many ways the image that Mr. Trump has cultivated for himself.
.. Both are go-it-alone nationalists who value strength and decisiveness over thoughtful deliberation. Both have dedicated themselves to defending Christians and their faith
.. Both have taken a more forgiving view of human rights abuses.
.. “This is consistent with a nationalist, populist, authoritarian point of view,” said William Kristol, the editor at large of the conservative Weekly Standard. That view, he added, “would ridicule the promotion of human rights and democracy as globalism
.. Beyond foreign policy, some conservatives saw Mr. Putin as a committed warrior in the culture wars they were losing at home. In Russia Mr. Putin led a crackdown on gay rights by taking such steps as criminalizing behavior that could be seen as promoting anything other than heterosexual relationships. This has earned him praise from leaders of the Christian right like Franklin Graham, who said in 2014 that Russia was doing more than the United States to protect its children.
.. “He is seeking to redefine the ‘Us vs. Them’ world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent West.”