13 Jul 2018

How should Theresa May handle Donald Trump?

How to handle Donald Trump? What tactics work? How do you get the best out of him? Is there any relationship worth pursuing given how quickly he spins round and contradicts himself? If you’re part of the traditional liberal West, will he always undermine you?

The grin/grimace and bear it approach has been tested to destruction by Theresa May. Evidence of the arrival pictures at Chequers suggests it is still in play. Waiting for the press conference, where we might hear more of that approach, it’s interesting to listen to US press corps members saying they think Mrs May should bite back a bit and is in danger of looking very weak.

President Macron has worked out a way to the President’s (slightly) better side. In her excellent Revolution Francaise, Sophie Pedder writes of how the French President intuited that the best way to a better relationship is through raw displays of power but also affection. The French seem, perhaps strangely, to be tolerating their President in this enterprise.

The premise, as Pedder writes, is that you need to do your best to “keep him inside the club.” Theresa May has the same objective. Despite some Farage-like rhetoric in her first phase in office, those who have known her a long time say she is not a disruptor, she is not a member of his club.

Boris Johnson worked a flattery button with the President. There can be little doubt that President Trump will have heard that the then British Foreign Secretary touted him for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on Korea. Everything about the way the Trump court works, feeding the President what he wants to hear, suggests that sort of stuff gets through. Maybe Mr Johnson’s suggestion that Donald Trump would’ve gone in hard in negotiations with the EU may have got through too.

Mr Trump certainly shared his wisdom on Brexit generously in the interview in The Sun. One particular line tallies with a criticism you hear repeatedly made by the President: he thinks the negotiations are taking  “too long … deals that take so long are never good ones.” Paul Waugh in the Huffington Post reports that the President regularly taunts Theresa May by starting their telephone calls asking if she’s Brexited yet?

At NATO’s summit this week the Danish political leaders tried a different approach. Infuriated by President Trump’s dismissal of NATO members’ contributions, they hit back mentioning the comparative death toll of Danish forces involved in US-led operations

We shall see where that gets them and if it is logged or forgotten.

The Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn came away from his encounter struck by the passion and pedigree of President Trump’s longstanding anti-EU feeling. But he could’ve been the man that stopped it happening. Imagine how things might have gone in the 2016 EU referendum if President Trump had already been elected to office.

Might it have alerted sleepy Remain-inclined voters? Might the result have been different? Might the great world outside the EU have looked a bit more dangerous?

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