President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani: Trump interview with Mueller ‘further away’ ACLU calls for Trump officials to hand over info on immigrant children Kushner to join Pompeo for meetings with Mexican leaders MORE’s conduct during his trip to the United Kingdom has left even seasoned observers scratching their heads.
Trump’s criticism of British Prime Minister Theresa May in an interview with The Sun newspaper has overshadowed the visit, to no discernible benefit to the president.
Even Trump seemed to acknowledge the misstep when he admitted during a joint news conference with May on Friday that he had tried to apologize to her.
“When I saw her this morning I said, ‘I want [to] apologize, because I said such good things about you.’ She said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s only the press,’ ” Trump said.
Trump also blamed the controversy on “fake news,” despite The Sun posting audio of the interview. Media watchers also suggested it was an odd jab for the president to make against a newspaper controlled by Rupert Murdoch, a Trump ally.
May retained a diplomatic tone during the news conference but left no doubt about the friction caused by Trump’s remarks.
She insisted that a deal put forth by her last week on Brexit negotiations was a fair reflection of the wishes of the voters as expressed in the June 2016 referendum.
She said the UK would be able to negotiate a trade deal with the United States if her preferred outcome occurred — a view that Trump agreed with during their joint appearance but had cast doubt on in his interview with The Sun.
Pointedly, she turned to look directly at Trump during her prepared remarks as she said, “It is all of our responsibility to ensure that transatlantic unity endures.”
James Boys, a British political historian, said of May, “She was put in a very difficult position,” especially when Trump appeared to call on her at times during the news conference “to substantiate his facts and figures.”
“It was almost like he was using her as a prop,” he added.
Among American observers there was consternation about Trump’s broader conduct.
“It’s just inexplicable,” said Rick Tyler, a GOP strategist who served as communications director for Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Administration to brief Senate panel on family reunifications O’Rourke’s Senate bid raises whopping .4M in second fundraising quarter MORE (R-Texas) during the 2016 presidential primaries. “Firstly, what are your objectives in going overseas — embarrassing your host and undermining her precarious position?”
Tyler added, “I’m not a big fan of Theresa May and I’m not really all that enthusiastic about her position on Brexit, but it is not the president’s place in public to embarrass an ally.”
Earlier in the week, Trump sparked controversy with his fiery comments at a NATO summit in Brussels, where he pressured other nations to increase their defense spending — though the president mischaracterized the way NATO funding works, suggesting allies were “delinquent” in their dues, which they are not.
It is at least plausible to suggest that Trump’s rhetoric at NATO could play well with his base. A Trump friend and ally, Michael Caputo, told The Hill that “this is precisely why Americans supported Donald Trump” in the 2016 election.
By contrast, observers were perplexed as to what upside there could be, if any, in causing trouble for May over an issue like Brexit that matters little to most Americans.
“It would be like Theresa May coming here and dissing Donald Trump for his stance on NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem,” said John “Mac” Stipanovich, a Florida-based GOP operative. “Trump supporters would go bananas!”
Adding to the joint news conference awkwardness, Trump restated his praise for Boris Johnson, who resigned earlier this week as May’s foreign secretary over her position on Brexit.
Trump repeated his assertion that Johnson would make “a great prime minister,” even though he went on to praise May in flamboyant terms.
Trump has faced protests in Britain, as well as savage criticism from the British media.
He will be hoping to take refuge from that for the weekend in Scotland, his late mother’s birthplace.
The attention of the political world has also already begun to shift toward his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is set to take place in Helsinki on Monday.
Anticipation for the Putin meeting is at fever pitch after Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinGOP lawmaker: Accusations against Jim Jordan come from ‘deep state’ The Hill’s Morning Report — Trump denigrates NATO allies, floats 4 percent solution Rosenstein asks federal prosecutors for help in review of Kavanaugh documents: report MORE on Friday announced the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers on charges related to the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee.
But the puzzlement, on both side of the Atlantic, about what Trump is trying to achieve with his behavior in Britain remains.
Trump insisted the so-called special relationship between the two allies had only gotten stronger. During the joint news conference he insisted it was now “the highest level of special.”
Outside observers were not so sure.
“Nothing substantive at all has come out of it,” Boys said. “Usually with a presidential trip, there will be some kind of positive development coming out of it. There has really been nothing at all.”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.