Ben Domenech, a founder and publisher of The Federalist, a conservative online publication, said the debate of recent days reminded him of a “South Park” episode where the characters say that America has problems, but anyone who does not root for the home team should get out of the stadium.
“The president is doing the same thing, with an added tinge of xenophobia,” said Mr. Domenech. “It’s tribal, it ramps up the intensity of everything, but it plays both in his interest and the interests of the congressional members involved from their perspective.”
Mr. Trump was less bothered by criticism of the United States in the years leading up to his election. He repeatedly said “our country is a laughingstock” and took issue with the term “American exceptionalism.” In 2013, he praised Mr. Putin for an “amazing” Op-Ed in The New York Times that said the United States was not special and criticized Mr. Obama for asserting American exceptionalism.
Speaking on CNN, Mr. Trump said, “You think of the term as being fine, but all of a sudden you say, what if you’re in Germany or Japan or any one of 100 different countries? You’re not going to like that term. It’s very insulting, and Putin really put it to him about that.” As for whether Americans were exceptional, he said, “Why would we be?” citing the disastrous Iraq war.
He likewise rejected the term in 2016 as a presidential candidate when asked about his praise for Mr. Putin’s Op-Ed. “And that’s basically what Putin was saying, is that, you know, you use a term like ‘American exceptionalism,’ and frankly, the way our country is being treated right now by Russia and Syria and lots of other places and with all the mistakes we’ve made over the years, like Iraq and so many others, it’s sort of a hard term to use,” he said on Fox News.
During other interviews, he has said the United States was no better than Russia when it came to its moral values on the international front. During a conversation with Bill O’Reilly on Fox shortly after Mr. Trump took office, the host pointed out that “Putin’s a killer.” Mr. Trump replied by saying, “What, do you think our country is so innocent?”
Mr. Trump’s affinity for Russia was so pronounced during the campaign that Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, now the Republican leader in the House, privately told colleagues that “I think Putin pays” Mr. Trump. Last year, Mr. Trump blamed poor relations with Russia on “many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity” — to which the Russian Foreign Ministry then tweeted, “We agree.”
Asked on Sunday to reconcile Mr. Trump’s latest love-America line with his repeated assertions that America needed to be made great again, and therefore was not great, Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the president’s re-election campaign, offered a variation on the slogan: “Keep America great.”