Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appeared to back off Wednesday on his praise for Vladimir Putin, following his running mate’s lead and saying he’s not quite sure what kind of relationship he would have with the Russian president.
Trump previously has praised Putin as a strong leader, much better than U.S. President Barack Obama.
"I don't love [Putin], I don't hate. We'll see how it works. We'll see," Trump said at a campaign stop in Nevada. "Maybe we’ll have a good relationship. Maybe we’ll have a horrible relationship. Maybe we’ll have a relationship right in the middle."
Democratic rival Hillary Clinton was quick to respond to Trump’s apparent change of heart, tweeting, “Unfortunately for [Republican vice presidential nominee] Mike Pence and Donald Trump, Google exists [and we aren’t stupid].”
Clinton said Trump has "this weird fascination with dictators," ABC News reported.
"My opponent seems not to know the difference between an ally and adversary," Clinton said at an evening fundraiser in Washington. "There seems to be some misunderstanding about what it means to have a dictatorship and provide leadership."
Questions have been raised about Trump’s business dealings in Russia and whether they color his perception, especially with his reluctance to release his tax returns.
During Tuesday’s vice presidential debate, Pence appeared to break with Trump, calling Putin a bully and condemning Russian actions in Syria in support of the Assad regime.
In Nevada, Trump said Russia still could be a valuable ally in the fight against the Islamic State group.
Trump is on the record praising Putin as long ago as October 2007 when he said the Russian leader is “doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period” right after Moscow was accused of unleashing a cyberwar on Estonia, Mother Jones reported.
In 2011, Trump in his book, “Time to Get Tough,” derided Obama’s inability to contain Putin, who Trump said has “big plans.”
“He wants to edge out his neighbors so that Russia can dominate oil supplies to all of Europe. ... I respect Putin and the Russians,” Trump wrote.
In June 2012, Trump tweeted: "Do you think Putin will be going to the Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow — if so, will he become my new best friend?"
After Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, Trump tweeted, “I believe Putin will continue to rebuild the Russian empire.”
The following May, Trump told the National Press Club Putin couldn’t have been nicer when the two spoke in Moscow.
In July 2015, Trump said he would “get along very well” with Putin.
Trump also takes Russia at its word when it denied shooting down a Malaysian Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Last December, Putin praised Trump as "a very lively man, talented without doubt." Trump was effusive in thanking Putin for the praise: "It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond."
After the hack of the Democratic National Committee emails was revealed in July, Trump suggested on Twitter the Russians did it because Putin likes him. A few days later, Trump called on Russia to hack Clinton’s email to find the 30,000 deleted files. He then denied ever having met Putin.
During Tuesday’s debate, Trump tweeted Clinton’s “close ties” to Putin should be investigated.
Clinton spent the day with advisers in Washington ahead of Sunday’s second presidential debate.