Belfast Telegraph

Donald Tump clash with Theresa May: The end of the affair?

It had all started off so well with hand-holding at the White House in January. But is the special friendship between Donald Trump and Theresa May set to collapse after a very public Twitter spat?

By Philip Delves Broughton

The danger of dancing with Donald Trump is that at some point he will tempt you into a dip, then pull his arms away and let you drop to the floor. He has done it repeatedly to those he perceives as desperate enough for his friendship.

Theresa May might have suspected this when she hurried over to Washington in January to make sure she was the first foreign leader to visit him after his inauguration.

Or when Trump tried awkwardly to hold her hand as they walked through the White House.

Or when she discovered the esteem in which the Brexit duumvirate of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson appear to hold him. Gove was one of the first journalists to interview Trump after his election, while Johnson recently called him "one of the huge, great global brands".

But this week, she received the full treatment when she tried standing up against the president for retweeting anti-Muslim videos first posted by the Britain First group. She called him "wrong" and he told her to back off. Via Twitter, naturally. And first to a Theresa May living in Bognor, who had six Twitter followers, before finally getting the Prime Minister's handle right.

".@Theresa_May, don't focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!"

President Trump's foreign policy agenda consists of three issues: China, North Korea and the Middle East. Europe barely registers.

As for any hopes that the US would stand behind a post-Brexit vision of Britain as the Singapore of Europe, anchored by its trading relationships with North America - well, so much for that.

America's corporate class to whom Trump listens closely, mostly share the view of billionaire media mogul and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg regarding Brexit - that "it is really hard to understand why a country that was doing so well wanted to ruin it".

Trump's tweet to the Prime Minister was a swat at a politician and a country he considers quaint, and a fine place to golf, but irrelevant to his own place in history.

He has also been irritated by Britain's opposition to his plans to tear up the nuclear deal with Iran. Trump is convinced of the Saudi and Israeli view that Iran is at the root of all the Middle East's problems, and must be treated with extreme suspicion. Britain still thinks the nuclear deal and the possibility of Iran opening up its economy are a better way to go.

Trump's tweet back to May reflected his administration's view that Britain is too soft on Islamic terrorism. And that its position on Iran epitomises its naivety.

He would never tweet so disdainfully to President Xi Jinping of China or Saudi Arabia's ascendant Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Those relationships are still budding and precious.

Britain, by contrast, is going nowhere, especially as it withdraws from Europe. The poor British ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, must scurry back and forth explaining and grovelling.

But fundamentally, the UK-US relationship is so deep on so many levels, from intelligence sharing and military co-operation to trade and cultural links, that Trump knows it can take a beating.

Any damage done now will likely be forgotten by the time of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle next year. As the New York Post's front page put it: "American Princess. It's a revolution! Harry to wed Yank".

The biggest risk now for May is that she irritates the president enough to earn her own nickname, such as Little Rocket Man for North Korea's Kim Jong Un or Crooked Hillary for Hillary Clinton. Once lodged in the president's mind, those tend to stick.

Trump enjoys stirring America's racial pot, whether it is by attacking leading African-American athletes for their protests against police brutality, or fudging his criticism of neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia in August.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that in private President Trump has been reviving his slander that Barack Obama was not born in the US and was therefore not eligible to be president.

That was a lie that went down well with his largely white audiences during his campaign, but which he stopped peddling once he had won.

Another possible answer to Trump's retweeting of the Britain First videos comes from the way he absorbs information.

He does not read the thick briefing documents or intelligence reports consumed by previous US presidents.

His staff have learned to send him charts, videos and other visual presentations which he can understand quickly. It therefore wouldn't be surprising if one of them sent him the Britain First videos as an emotional appeal to stiffen his resolve against Iran.

A third explanation for Trump's terribly busy week on Twitter is that he is trying to distract from the tax bill which is now rumbling through Congress. If passed, it will transform Trump's presidency.

It is the biggest tax reform in 30 years. Politically, it will redeem Trump's failure to repeal President Obama's Affordable Care Act, and give him a major legislative achievement to campaign on.

In the very broadest terms, Trump has argued, the bill is intended to simplify and reduce taxes with the hope of spurring economic growth.

Its critics, however, say that it will inevitably end up cutting taxes for the rich and corporations and increasing them for the middle and lower income brackets.

As with all legislation of this scale in Washington, the bill is now being stuffed with all kinds of exemptions and perks to win over hesitant senators and congressmen.

No one is quite sure what kind of sausage will emerge from the whole messy process.

While it happens, Trump may be happy for the media to try to make sense of his bizarre Twitter feuds rather than the future of the mortgage interest rate deduction.

One of the guiding principles of Trump's communications strategy has always been distraction.

If there is a problem over here, create 10 more over there and hope that the truth gets lost in amongst the smoke and haze.

If you read his Twitter feed, his criticism of May was a mere bat squeak in a cannonade against everyone from the Senate, to Kim Jong Un, TV hosts being accused of sexual harassment to "Fake News CNN" and "Obstructionist Democrats", as well as anyone not joining Trump in his crusade to "REBUILD OUR GREAT COUNTRY".

The distraction theory may also explain the leak that Trump plans to fire his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson - big news for any normal administration, but somehow just another Apprentice moment for this White House.

The very good news for Trump this week, though, has come from the US economy.

The stock market has hit record highs. Unemployment is at its lowest since 2000. And the US government also reported that the economy is running at its full potential for the first time since the financial crisis.

The groundwork for this boom may have been laid by President Obama. But to the horror of President Trump's many enemies, he is squeezing out every last ounce of credit for it - and may yet reap its political rewards.

Independent News Service

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