Jacob Heilbrunn

Theresa May is back in the President’s Club

Theresa May is back in the President's Club
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Donald Trump is in love again. Theresa May can’t guarantee Trump an effusive welcome if he visits Great Britain and they don’t appear to have held hands. But Trump seemed to indicate that the rough patch in their relationship is over. Meeting with May today at Davos, Trump declared, `We love your country.’ He thereby welcomed May back to what amounts to his personal Presidents Club.

For May, Trump’s amorous avowal must come as a big relief. She was the first foreign leader to visit the White House in January 2017. But French president Emmanuel Macron has now upstaged her by becoming the first to receive a state visit. Macron, who can rely on expert advice from the suave French ambassador in Washington Gerard Araud, has displayed the kind of sinuous diplomatic dexterity that May can only dream about. Heads should be rolling in the Foreign Office over this coup de main.

May is quite right to focus on ensuring that Trump does visit later this year. Downing Street says that a trip is being 'finalised'. Already Trump has enthused that May could be 'my Maggie', assuming the role that Thatcher played to Ronald Reagan. Trump is more fickle than Reagan, but May needs to keep wooing Trump. Further inroads by the Quai d’Orsay that leave Britain in a position of not-so-splendid isolation are quite possible. In addition, America has a soft spot for the French. For all the bluster about the special relationship between America and the United Kingdom, the fact remains that it was France that supported the American revolutionaries in fighting George III’s hated Hessian mercenaries.

How much faith May should put in Trump’s professions about the prospect of a 'tremendous increase' in trade, though, is something of an open question. Trump, as is his wont, spoke in expansive terms—does he ever speak otherwise?-- even as his Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin talks down the dollar. The soaring pound will make it that much more difficult to export to America, and, in any case, Trump has made it abundantly clear that his dream is an autarkic country.

One way that May might capitalise on her blooming relationship and to help British exports would be to give Trump some fashion advice. She should persuade Trump to jettison the oversized Brioni suits for a more dignified look that relies on sensible British haberdashery. While Ozwald Boateng might be a little too cutting edge for the president, he might try the soft tailoring of Anderson & Sheppard or a more structured suit from Huntsman. She can worry about showing him how to knot a tie properly later on.

But it’s clear that the ties that bind are starting to reassert themselves. A state visit by Trump, complete with all the appropriate ceremonial trappings, will go a long way toward securing his inconstant affections. That should suit both May and Trump just fine.