Why would anyone applaud Trump for praising Putin?

This, it should go without saying, is a disgrace of the highest order. It would, of course, be unseemly to hear anybody in the United States downplaying the murder of dissenters. But a presidential aspirant? In the Republican party? Two of Donald Trump’s opponents in this race are in America because their parents were forced out of Cuba by exactly the sort of regime that Trump is now applauding. How quickly the center of gravity would change were he the nominee. “I know not what course others may take,” Patrick Henry exclaimed in 1775, “but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” “Freedom is one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human spirit,” argued Ronald Reagan in his second inaugural. “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader,” says Donald J. Trump.

This will not “finish” Trump off, of course, for Trump is the focal point in what has essentially become an unfalsifiable conspiracy theory in which the “establishment” is always wrong and Trumpism is always the solution. Facts, frankly, no longer enter into this calculation; reason, too, has become an afterthought. It is quite the spectacle to watch a group of voters simultaneously slamming Barack Obama as an inexperienced, Constitution-hating celebrity, and then to enthusiastically propose a mirror-image as his replacement. But watch this you can. Fire up Twitter right now and scroll through the excuses that are being advanced in favor of Trump’s pro-Putin lovefest. Do you think the incumbent president would have got away with this? Would Ted Cruz?