Daniel R. DePetris

It’s only a matter of time before Trump turns on Boris

It's only a matter of time before Trump turns on Boris
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The last time president Donald Trump flew to London, pandemonium ensued. A visit that was supposed to be ordinary turned out to be extraordinary. Thousands of Londoners protested the president’s arrival, launching a big baby Trump balloon into the air (which predictably captured the thin-skinned president’s attention). Trump took to the pages of the Sun and trashed Theresa May’s negotiating ability, explaining that the PM didn’t listen to his advice on how to get the best Brexit terms for the UK. To top it all off, Trump went on to laud Boris Johnson as someone who would “make a great prime minister”—a remark that came at a particularly acrimonious time in May’s tenure with her political career at stake.

As Trump descends upon the UK to meet the Queen and talk turkey with the PM, the visit won’t be as politically difficult for May as last year’s disaster. She is, after all, on her way out the door. But this doesn’t mean Trump’s three-days in country will be any less explosive for the UK, amidst the fierce Tory leadership contest.  Trump has all but endorsed Boris Johnson as the next PM.  “I think Boris would do a very good job. I think he would be excellent...I like him.  I have always liked him.  I don’t know that he is going to be chosen, but I think he is a very good guy, a very talented person,” Trump commented in another interview with the Sun.

It’s difficult to determine whether Trump’s beamy words for Johnson will help or hurt him (Trump’s approval rating in the UK is dismal). But one thing is certain—if prospective PM Boris Johnson thinks Trump will always be in his corner, he simply doesn’t understand the man.

Trump is notorious for turning on people if it’s personally expedient or if he senses the slightest insult or opposition. There was a period not long ago when Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron were the best of friends. Think of the glamorous portrait of the Trumps and Macrons dining at the Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower before watching the Bastille Day Festivities in the heart of Paris, the two presidents smiling at one another like long lost brothers. "He's [Macron] doing a terrific job in France," Trump said two months later, adding that "He's respected by the French people and I can tell you he is respected by the people of the United States.”

Those days are gone. The two are now more likely to take jabs at each other than stress their personal bond. Macron gives speeches warning about the dark forces of the very nationalism that fuelled Trump’s political rise. And Trump speaks and tweets about Macron as if he’s a spoiled Frenchman who disrespects the United States for promoting silly ideas like an independent European army.  

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has had a similar experience with Trump. While Trudeau and Trump were never close to begin with, the Canadian PM at least made an effort to get the relationship on the right foot. That lasted about five seconds. The partnership has never really recovered since last year’s G-7 summit ended with an angry Trump leaving the confab, removing his signature from the joint communique, and calling Trudeau “meek and mild” on Twitter. The US-Canadian relationship is still suffering from disputes over trade, defense spending, and personality.  

Trump is also a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with his own advisers. Rex Tillerson, John Kelly, Steve Bannon, H.R. McMaster, Jim Mattis, Reince Priebus, Rudy Giuliani, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan have all either gotten the boot from Trump or have suffered his wrath at one point or another. Nobody is safe in Trump World. One day you can be eating hamburgers in the White House with the president; the next day he may be polling his friends and asking whether he should get rid of you.

What does this mean for Boris Johnson? Be careful what you wish for—Trump could turn on you before you even know it. If it can happen with his own advisers, it can happen to a future PM Boris.