Trump liked him all right and stopped playing coy in 2013, before he traveled to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant there. âDo you think Putin will be going?â Trump tweeted, and you could picture him poised blushingly over his keypad, like a schoolgirl scribbling in her diary. âIf so, will he become my new best friend?â
After the event, he did what all freshly besotted lovers do: crowed to the world about the bliss that the two of them had known.
âPutin even sent me a present, a beautiful present,â he said early the next year, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, but he failed to describe the token. Lovers have their confidences, and must hold tight to them.
Trump enveloped the two of them in mystery, creating confusion about what was really going on. Apparently referring to that Miss Universe moment, Trump told journalists, âI was in Moscow recently, and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin.â
So they were unambiguously and ambiguously involved. âWe were stable mates,â he said of another time that they kind of, but not really, crossed paths, each with a separate segment on the same â60 Minutes,â two wild horses in one media corral.
But how Trump felt about Putin was no secret. He routinely praised Putinâs muscular will. He repeatedly defended Putinâs honor, taking umbrage at talk of Putinâs Russia as a place where naysaying journalists and political opponents wound up dead.
âI think our country does plenty of killing also,â he told Joe Scarborough on âMorning Joe.â
This was when Barack Obama was still in the White House, and the fact that he was Putinâs official counterpart, with more formal claim to the Russian leaderâs time and attention, drove Trump a little mad. Jealousy is a tangerine-topped monster, and Trump repeatedly insisted that heâd be better with and for Putin, that Obama and Putin even looked wrong together.
âReally bad body language,â Trump tweeted at one point. And later, this, in an interview with Anderson Cooper: âHe has no respect for Obama.â The proof, Trump added, was Edward Snowdenâs safe harbor in Russia. âIf Iâm president, Putin says, âHey, boom, youâre gone.â I guarantee you this.â Love, alas, is as bad at predictions as it is blind.
Trump had a way of hauling Putin into unrelated conversations, just to insist that Putin cared only for him. He volunteered that while Marco Rubio, one of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, was a dreamboat to some, heâd be a leaky dinghy to Putin.
âCan you imagine Putin sitting there waiting for a meeting and Rubio walks in and heâs totally drenched?â Trump said in the winter of 2016. âIâve never seen a human being sweat like this man sweats.â Take me, Vlad. I donât sweat. I glow.
Trump grew frisky. âRussia is like, I mean, theyâre really hot stuff,â he blurted, and it was obvious that he was thinking of Putin, whom heâd mentioned a moment earlier.
Trump grew insecure. Not once and not twice but more than eight times he bragged that Putin had called him âbrilliantâ or âa genius,â when there was in fact much dispute about that. By some translations, Putin merely described him as âcolorful,â and could well have been appraising nothing more than his vaguely orange hue.
Is it any wonder that Trump craved a grand gesture for all the world to behold? He publicly beseeched Russia to ferret out and expose âthe 30,000 emails that are missingâ from a personal server that Hillary Clinton used as secretary of state. If I mean anything at all to you, Vlad, youâll do it.
Now, at long last, they come face to face, and while itâs uncertain what Trump will say, itâs clear what Trump has done: fashioned himself in the swaggering, blustering image of his beloved. Itâs âGrease.â And itâs gross.