Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence backed running mate Donald Trump's praise for Vladimir Putin Thursday, saying it was "inarguable" that the Russian president was a "stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country."
Pence made the remark in an interview with CNN after being asked about Trump's statements during a national security forum Wednesday night.
The real estate mogul cited Putin's 82 percent approval rating as proof that he had "great control over his country." Trump argued that Russian politics were governed by "a very different system and I don't happen to like the system, but certainly, in that system, he's been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader."
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said at a news conference Thursday morning that "every Republican holding or seeking office in this country should be asked if they agree with Donald Trump about [those] statements."
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. distanced himself from Trump's remarks, calling Putin "an aggressor that does not share our interests."
Former world chess champion and Russian opposition figure Garry Kasparov also criticized Pence on Twitter.
Governor Pence, Vladimir Putin is a strong leader in the same way arsenic is a strong drink. Your country should be ashamed of you.— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) September 8, 2016
The Indiana governor Thursday also softened remarks by Trump that America's generals have been "reduced to rubble" under Obama and that military commanders in a Trump administration would "probably be different generals."
"In all due respect, I think he was talking about the commander-in-chief reducing the influence of generals to rubble," Pence said. "I think what he's talking about is ensuring that we have strong leadership from the commander-in-chief on down who listen to our generals."
"I think the American people are deeply troubled at a foreign policy and a military policy of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that has caused the wider Middle East to literally spin out of control," Pence added. "We've seen civil war in Syria, civil war in Libya. We've seen entire areas of Iraq that were won by the American soldiers become compromised."