Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump boards his plane after speaking at a campaign rally in Mesa, Arizona, Dec. 16, 2015. Reuters

If Russian President Vladimir Putin has some nasty habits like, say, allegedly killing journalists and political opponents, Republican front-runner Donald Trump prefers to focus on other aspects of his makeup. Trump calls Putin "a leader," while asserting that this quality is now lacking in American life.

In an interview on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" Friday, Trump sang the praises of the Russian president, brushing aside those allegations against Putin twice when asked about them. “He's running his country, and at least he's a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Trump said when asked by host Joe Scarborough about Putin’s alleged killing of journalists.

There’s “a lot of killing going on” around the world, Trump responded when asked a second time. He then asked for a different question. "I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so, you know," Trump replied. "There's a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that's the way it is. But you didn't ask me [that] question; you asked me a different question. So that's fine.”

Trump, whom Putin recently called “bright and talented,” eventually condemned killing journalists and political opposition when a confused Scarborough asked a third time.

The billionaire’s embrace of the Russian leader has not gone unnoticed by his Republican rivals. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has fallen sharply in the polls since he began his candidacy earlier this year, has been highly critical of the duo, questioning whether or not Trump had any idea where Putin’s foreign policy allegiance lays. In the past 24 hours, Bush has attacked Trump 12 times on Twitter. Only two Bush tweets covered different subject matter in that time.

Trump currently sits at the top of the Republican pack in averages of national polls aggregated by Real Clear Politics, with 33 percent of the vote. He is followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (16.1 percent), Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (12.6 percent), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (12 percent) and, finally, Bush (4 percent).

Putin has been accused of being involved in the killing of at least nine political opponents or journalists between 2006 and 2013, including former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died in November 2006 after drinking tea poisoned with radioactive material. He had accused Putin of corruption right before fleeing Russia to the United Kingdom.