Photo: Andrew Harnik (AP)

Donald Trump was in the zone on Saturday. With pressure building from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into an array of possible misdeeds by Trump and his inner circle, and with some of his closest advisers abandoning ship, a little humor might be what the president’s doctor ordered. Along with fewer cheeseburgers, of course.

But Trump crossed the line with one of his “jokes” at a Republican fundraiser at Mar–a–Lago on Saturday afternoon. CNN obtained a recording of the closed–door remarks, delivered to an audience that paid thousands of dollars to be there.

During the remarks, Trump commented on the recent elimination of presidential term limits in China, which pave the way for Xi Jinping to become dictator for life in the East Asian nation of 1.4 billion. Critics have been urging Trump to denounce that anti–democratic move, announced by China’s ruling Communist Party last weekend. It was the biggest shakeup in China’s political system in decades. And Trump had remained silent, until Saturday.

“Don’t forget China is great. And Xi is a great gentleman,” Trump told the group of wealthy donors. “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great. Hey look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”

Trump continued: “He’s the most powerful president in 100 years, you know, person in 100 years, in China. He’s great. And he treated us tremendously well when I went over there.”

This isn’t the first time Trump has praised dictators. In addition to Xi, the U.S. president has said he admires Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s dirty war on illicit drugs, which relies largely on extrajudicial killings, and he laughed when Duterte called reporters “spies.”

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He also reportedly likes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, an authoritarian who has tightened his grip on that country since a failed July 2016 coup.

And Trump has shown time and again that he seems more concerned with serving the interests of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, whom he also admires, than he does the American people or their democratic institutions. Last November, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam, Trump said he believed Putin’s assurances that Russia had not meddled in the U.S. elections. Instead of defending the U.S. intelligence community and taking Putin to task over it, Trump blamed the Democrats.

Just as bad as Trump coming clean about his own dictatorial tendencies is the fact that his audience laughed, applauded, and cheered him on. We’ve seen these types of comments before, with Trump privately addressing those who are enriching him at one of his resorts. In February 2017, shortly after taking office, audio was leaked from a dinner reception Trump held at his golf club in Bedminster, NJ. At that dinner, Trump referred to members of his golf club as “the special people.”

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Trump supporters already are downplaying the latest comments and attacking the messenger, CNN.

Fox News was happy to help in that effort, accusing CNN’s Brian Stelter of having “an agenda.”

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For the rest of Americans, however, Trump’s comments were reckless, dangerous, and frightening. “One difference between you and China’s Xi is that you took an oath to the Constitution of the United States. You should read it,” Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu tweeted.

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“Not on our watch,” added Rep. Eric Swalwell.