An openly exasperated Sen. Lindsey Graham slammed Donald Trump on Thursday for saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a better leader than President Barack Obama.
“Vladimir Putin is a thug, a dictator, an autocratic ruler who has his opposition killed in the streets in Russia,” the South Carolina Republican told reporters on Capitol Hill. “If you are running to be leader of the free world and you find admiration for Putin, well, then, you’re losing me.”
The Republican presidential nominee made his latest comments about Putin at a forum on military and national security issues hosted by NBC on Wednesday evening, but his stance isn’t new. Trump has often expressed admiration for Putin’s leadership, describing him as strong and resolute in contrast to Obama, whom he has painted as a weak and ineffective leader.
Graham said that while he agreed that Obama had failed to stand up to Putin, Trump’s comment crossed the line and “unnerves me to my core.”
“As to President Obama’s policies regarding Putin, I think he’s been weak, I think he’s been indecisive, I think Putin’s walked all over him but no, I’m not gonna say that Putin’s a better leader than the Democratic elected president of the United States, even though I have differences with him,” he said on Thursday.
Following Trump’s and Clinton’s appearances at the NBC forum, where they answered questions for a half hour each, Graham said both candidates’ statements “disturb (him) greatly.”
“If you were looking for leadership, you didn’t find it in Hillary Clinton’s performance. If you were looking for competency, Donald Trump fell short,” he said in a Facebook post.
“Simply put, I’ve never been more worried about our men and women in uniform being poorly led over the next four years,” he said. Graham has said he will not be voting for Trump or Clinton in November.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on Thursday challenged Republicans to respond to Trump’s comments lauding Putin.
“Every Republican holding or seeking office in this country should be asked if they agree with Donald Trump about these statements,” she said in a news conference on Thursday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., quickly distanced himself from his party’s candidate on the matter, calling Putin “an aggressor that does not share our interests.”
Lindsay Wise contributed to this report.