Af­ter testy VP de­bate, Trump re­buffs claim he ‘loves’ Putin

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Jonathan Lemire and Josh Lederman

HENDERSON, NEV. >> Don­ald Trump pushed back Wed­nes­day on Hil­lary Clin­ton’s ac­cu­sa­tion that he’s cozy­ing up to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin af­ter the charge put Trump’s run­ning mate on the de­fen­sive dur­ing the vice pres­i­den­tial de­bate.

Trump of­fered ef­fu­sive praise for Mike Pence’s per­for­mance — but also claimed credit for it — even as both cam­paigns ac­knowl­edged that the sole vice pres­i­den­tial de­bate was un­likely to al­ter the race’s tra­jec­tory.

The celebrity busi­ness­man said his re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia’s leader would be de­ter­mined by how Moscow re­sponds to strong U.S. lead­er­ship un­der a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“They say Don­ald Trump loves Putin. I don’t love, I don’t hate. We’ll see how it works,” Trump told a rally out­side Las Ve­gas.

Clin­ton on Wed­nes­day shrugged that off, say­ing Trump has “this weird fas­ci­na­tion with dic­ta­tors.”

“My op­po­nent seems not to know the dif­fer­ence be­tween an ally and ad­ver­sary,” Clin­ton said at an evening fund raiser in Wash­ing­ton. “There seems to be some mis­un­der­stand­ing about what it means to have a dic­ta­tor­ship and pro­vide lead­er­ship.”

The bil­lion­aire can­di­date sought to take away an ar­gu­ment that Clin­ton and her run­ning mate, Tim Kaine, have ramped up in the fi­nal weeks of the cam­paign as they work to por­tray Trump as dan­ger­ous for Amer­i­can in­ter­ests over­seas. While U.S.-Rus­sia re­la­tions nose­dive over failed diplo­macy in Syria, Trump has com­pli­mented Putin, call­ing him a strong leader and even en­cour­ag­ing him to track down Clin­ton’s miss­ing emails, though Trump later said he was be­ing sar­cas­tic.

“You guys love Rus­sia,” Kaine said in Tues­day’s de­bate. “You both have said Vladimir Putin is a bet­ter leader than the pres­i­dent.”

In a force­ful re­buke, Pence de­scribed Putin as a “small and bul­ly­ing leader,” but blamed Clin­ton and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama for a “weak and feck­less” for­eign policy that had awak­ened Moscow’s ag­gres­sion in Ukraine and med­dling in the Mid­dle East.

The U.S. and Rus­sia back op­pos­ing sides in Syria’s civil war but both are fight­ing the Is­lamic State group there. The U.S. cut off talks with Rus­sia about Syria this week af­ter the lat­est cease-fire col­lapsed, blam­ing Rus­sia for fail­ing to ful­fill its com­mit­ments un­der the deal.

“I can say this: If we get along and Rus­sia went out with us and knocked the hell out of ISIS, that’s OK with me folks,” Trump said, us­ing an acro­nym for the ex­trem­ist group.

Since last week’s de­bate, Trump has faced a bar­rage of ques­tions over a leaked tax re­turn show­ing he lost more than $900 mil­lion in 1995. In turn, he’s sought to re­frame his life story as a come­back tale he hopes to recre­ate on be­half of a fal­ter­ing na­tion.

“Amer­ica needs a turn­around. Amer­i­can needs a come­back. Amer­ica needs a change. And that’s why I’m run­ning,” Trump said.

Tak­ing the stage in Henderson, Ne­vada, Trump took his own vic­tory lap for Pence’s per­for­mance, which he called “phenom­e­nal. Pence’s cool de­meanor con­trasted with Trump’s blus­ter dur­ing his own, top-of-the-ticket show­down against Clin­ton. How­ever strong Pence’s per­for­mance, Trump made clear he con­sid­ers it a re­flec­tion of him­self.

“I’m get­ting a lot of credit, be­cause that’s really my first so-called choice, that was my first hire,” Trump said of Pence.

Even Clin­ton’s team wasn’t claim­ing that Kaine had come out on top. For­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, for ex­am­ple, his wife’s run­ning mate “did just fine.”

Kaine ac­knowl­edged that even his wife gave him a hard time for his con­stant in­ter­rup­tions dur­ing the de­bate. But Kaine said he was ef­fec­tively able to block Pence from at­tack­ing Clin­ton. “I’ve never played hockey but I think I’d be a good goalie, based on last night,” he said.

The big mo­ment for their run­ning mates be­hind them, both Clin­ton and Trump were shift­ing fo­cus back to each other — and to Sun­day’s de­bate, the sec­ond of three show­downs be­tween the nom­i­nees.

Clin­ton was deep in de­bate prep Wed­nes­day at her Wash­ing­ton home. She was hud­dling with cam­paign chair­man John Podesta, top policy aid Jake Sul­li­van and her de­bate ad­vis­ers.

Trump, mean­while, was on the cam­paign trail, mak­ing several stops across Ne­vada. In Reno, the New Yorker ap­peared to lec­ture Ne­vadans on how their state is cor­rectly pro­nounced and then did an ex­ag­ger­ated ver­sion of his pre­ferred pro­nun­ci­a­tion of “Neh-VAHda,” though most res­i­dents of the Sil­ver State pro­nounce it, “Neh-VAD-uh.” He then de­clared that “no­body says it the other way.”

Cam­paign man­ager Kellyanne Con­way said, de­spite Trump’s trav­els, the can­di­date was pre­par­ing “con­stantly” for the de­bate. Trump planned his own town hall in New Hamp­shire on Thurs­day, in an ap­par­ent dress re­hearsal for the big event.

EVAN VUCCI — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump speaks dur­ing a cam­paign rally, Wed­nes­day in Henderson, Nev.

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