ANALYSIS – President Donald Trump ended his U.K. visit Wednesday in an uncharacteristic manner, sitting silently before the television cameras during an unplanned meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The moment offered a juxtaposition to his full-throated, unapologetic three days on British soil.
“The two leaders sat, smiling at the pool without saying a word,” wrote a reporter who was in Portsmouth, England, where the two leaders met briefly during a reception following a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of World War II’s D-Day invasion.
But from even before the president landed Monday morning to his departure for Shannon, Ireland, then another D-Day event Thursday in Normandy, France, he made plenty of waves across the pond — even if he avoided another gaffe with Queen Elizabeth II. And some of those waves could have lasting effects. Here are three takeaways from his visit.
Trump could have declined to discuss his planned tariffs on items entering the country from Mexico until he was back in North America. He could have explained that he wanted to focus on the U.S.-U.K. relationship, as what he says is still America’s closest ally prepares for Prime Minister Theresa May’s departure and more “Brexit” drama.
But that’s just not his style.
Amid pressure back home from his fellow Republicans to drop those Mexico tariffs before they kick in next week, Trump kept up his tough approach to even America’s closest allies.
A reporter asked him Wednesday if Mexico’s recent decision to step up efforts to disrupt South and Central American migrants moving over its territory for the U.S. border “could possibly be in response to your threat of tariffs.” Trump interrupted: “Not ‘possibly be.’”
“No, we haven’t started yet,” he said, when asked if those efforts might be enough to at least delay the import fees, expressing certainty the tariffs would go into effect at 5 percent (and could swell to 25 percent in a few months).
Though Republican lawmakers worry about the economic effects, Trump and his top aides continue to view trade battles as a strong selling point to his conservative base. And with the Mexico flap based in immigration policy, he has married two items that fire up his core supporters ahead of what experts say should be a high turnout election.
The president gave Democrats a big opening with his comments.
As Trump moved from event to event Tuesday, Republican members were practically begging him to drop his Mexico plans. And Democrats wasted little time trying to take advantage of the GOP civil war.
Many Democrats echoed House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland by using phrases such as the import fees is proposal “not a wise policy.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York took a different approach, essentially saying the president often displays a loud bark but a weak bite.
“The president has a tendency for bluster. There are many examples of the president taking a maximalist position before eventually backing off and announcing some different solution,” Schumer said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “Nine times out of 10, after a few months, everyone realizes that the so-called solution isn’t real and doesn’t work. But the president needs a way out of his bluster. That may well be true with the tariff issue.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the current Democratic 2020 frontrunner, used a similar attack line during a campaign event.
“While we’re standing around not doing much, the rest of the world is moving ahead,” Biden said. “They’re moving ahead while someone else is tweeting.”
Bette Midler & Kim Jong Un
As he often does, Trump raised eyebrows on Wednesday as he met with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar when he again gave North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un the benefit of the doubt — this time on reported executions of some of his top aides who were involved in failed nuclear disarmament talks with the White House.
The U.S. president criticized those who “like to blame Kim Jong Un immediately,” adding: “One of the people they were talking about that was supposedly executed wasn’t executed at all.”
That was a reference to a South Korean newspaper report that Kim Hyok-chol, the North’s lead envoy to the United States, had been spotted in public after reports he was killed by a firing squad.
The comment — and his pattern of defending Kim — puts him in line with only a few other world leaders. That short list includes Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping — both of whom, like Kim, have been accused of hardline tactics in their own countries.
Brian Klaas, a political science professor at the University College of London, offered this tweet before Trump will stand with Western leaders Thursday to again commemorate their countries standing up to Nazi Germany “Trump has now had harsher criticism for Bette Midler, Meryl Streep, and Nordstrom than he has for Kim Jong-Un and Vladimir Putin.”
Trump has now had harsher criticism for Bette Midler, Meryl Streep, and Nordstrom than he has for Kim Jong-Un and Vladimir Putin. https://t.co/Bqr8d8gt6Z
— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) June 5, 2019
Notably, May and Varadkar both did not mask certain disagreements with the American leader.
For instance, May on Tuesday corrected Trump after he — before backtracking — said her country’s government-run health system would be open for changes as part of trade talks. (She said the terms of the talks have not yet been finalized.) And when Trump referred to “your wall” while addressing his Irish counterpart about “Brexit” a day later, Varadar shot back: “I think one thing we want to avoid, of course, is a wall or border between us.”