Donald Trump has made it clear that when it comes to world leaders he admires, the more authoritarian they are the better. On Tuesday, Trump reiterated his fondness for tyrannical strongmen when he praised former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's approach to terrorism.
"He was a bad guy — really bad guy," the presumptive Republican nominee said at a rally in North Carolina, referring to Hussein. "But you know what? He did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn't read them the rights. They didn't talk. They were terrorists. Over."
This is not the first time Trump has praised Hussein — or a number of other dictators for that matter. Last October, he said on NBC's Meet the Press that Iraq and Libya would both be better off if Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi, respectively, were still in power there. He has also said he admires Russian President Vladimir Putin — "I would probably get along with him very well" — and that he would reopen talks with North Korea's Kim Jong-un.
"I would speak to him, I would have no problem speaking to him," Trump told Reuters during an interview in May, referring to Kim.
Trump called Kim a "maniac," but said he deserves "credit" for taking out his rivals.
"You have to give him credit," he said. "How many young guys — he was like 26 or 25 when his father died — take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden — you know, it's pretty amazing when you think of it. How does he do that? Even though it is a culture and it's a cultural thing, he goes in, he takes over, and he's the boss. It's incredible."
Trump, of course, often strays outside the bounds of American policy norms. But his willingness to praise leaders that the US has long designated as enemies pushes the bounds even for him. Tuesday's comments about Hussein quickly drew condemnation from members of both parties.
House Speaker Paul Ryan found himself, yet again, having to distance himself from his own party's presidential nominee.
Hussein "was one the 20th century's most evil people," Ryan said on Fox News. Still, Ryan added, Trump is "far better to be commander in chief than Hillary Clinton in my mind."
Clinton disagreed. Her campaign wasted no time in slamming Trump's remarks and clarifying that Saddam's regime was actually complicit in terrorism.
"Donald Trump's praise for brutal strongmen seemingly knows no bounds," Jake Sullivan, a Clinton policy advisor, said in a statement. "In reality, Hussein's regime was a sponsor of terrorism — one that paid families of suicide bombers who attacked Israelis, among other crimes. Trump's cavalier compliments for brutal dictators, and the twisted lessons he seems to have learned from their history, again demonstrate how dangerous he would be as Commander-in-Chief and how unworthy he is of the office he seeks."
Trump often says he opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, even though he was on record at the time as supporting it. During a 2002 interview with radio host Howard Stern, Trump said "yeah I guess so" when asked if he would support a US invasion.
Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @oliviaLbecker
Watch: The movement that's fueling Donald Trump's white nationalist supporters