(CNN)As Mike Pence seems to be learning fast, Donald Trump is not inclined to think much before speaking.
Amid growing concern that Russia was behind the recent hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computer accounts, Trump said he hopes the Russians have Hillary Clinton’s emails from her days as secretary of state. Pence, Trump’s running mate, quickly distanced himself from this sentiment, saying there should be “serious consequences” for any foreign power meddling in an American election.
The dissonance between Trump and Pence, who served in Congress and spoke as a national leader is expected to speak, arose after Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks at a press conference he conducted at one of his golf courses in Florida. In typical style, Trump was flippant about the apparent meddling in U.S. affairs. “Russia, if you’re listening, he said, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will be rewarded mightily by our press.”
If Trump wants to establish a relationship with Putin today he could use his own campaign staff to make an overture. Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has been involved in politics in the Ukraine for at least 10 years. An international political consultant, Manafort is widely reported to have worked to help the pro-Putin party of Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort polished up Yanukovich’s style and his client eventually became Ukraine’s president in 2010.
In his short reign Yanukovych became an exceedingly rich man who lived on a vast estate, built with public funds, where the grounds held a zoo, a reproduction of an ancient galleon, and a private car collection. When a pro-Western uprising forced him to flee the country, he said Putin “helped my security to get me out, and save my life.”
Although he was probably the only one rescued by Putin, Viktor Yanukovych was not the only authoritarian leader aided by Manafort’s consulting firm. In a report published in 1992 by the Center for Public Integrity, the company’s roster of clients was reported to include numerous despotic regimes. Trump seems to have a similar affinity for authoritarian leaders.
During the campaign Trump has voiced admiration for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Moammar Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein. What Trump admires in these men is the quality he admires in himself, strength evidenced by their successes.
Throughout his life, going back to his days as a schoolboy cadet at New York Military Academy, Trump has strived to reach personal goals — power, wealth, fame — through the demonstration of strength. Trump sees a kindred soul in men who suffer with the strong man complex, rising to power on the basis of sheer will and exercising it ruthlessly. For much of the Western world, Putin is the ultimate example of this dynamic. And like Pence, many people would agree that Trump is playing a risky game by encouraging the Russian leader.
Donald Trump’s admiration for Vladimir Putin is trouble