July 10, 2019 | News | No Comments
President Donald Trump is done with the man he calls “the wacky Ambassador” from the United Kingdom—he is over, had it, finito, “will no longer deal with him,” as he put it in a tweet on Monday. “I do not know the Ambassador,” Trump added, but he did know that he was “not liked” in the United States. (On Tuesday morning, the President called him “a very stupid guy.”) The diplomat, Sir Kim Darroch, had, in fact, met the President a number of times, as he recounted in a series of leaked cables, spanning two years, portions of which were published by the British tabloid the Mail on Sunday, and “always found him to be absolutely charming.” Darroch observed, though, that Trump “radiates insecurity” and “had no filter,” that his White House was “a uniquely dysfunctional environment,” and that its Iran policy was “incoherent and chaotic.” Darroch wrote, “I don’t think this Administration will ever look competent.”
Fair enough. A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May, who was also an object of the President’s Twitter rage in the face of the leak of the cables—“What a mess she and her representatives have created”—said that, although the government regretted the leak, it relied on diplomats to provide “an honest and unvarnished view.” Here, May seemed to be neglecting a piece of advice that Darroch had sent along: “You need to start praising him for something that he’s done recently. . . . You need whenever possible to present them as wins for him.” But then May, as Trump gloatingly noted in his tweets, is due to leave her office by the end of the month—part of the wreckage caused by the British political establishment’s unending struggle with Brexit—and Darroch himself is near the end of his tenure. The most likely candidate to succeed her as Tory leader and, by extension, Prime Minister, is the reckless former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, whose relationship with the truth is somewhat similar to the President’s. On Tuesday, Johnson, who has been intermittently critical of Trump over the years but also bragged about their closeness, said in answer to a question about the Darroch affair, “I’ve a good relationship with the White House and no embarrassment in saying that.”
The other remaining candidate for the job, the current Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who is Darroch’s boss, said that, although it was, indeed, important for diplomats to be “frank,” to his mind, Darroch had got it wrong: “I think the U.S. Administration is highly effective.” (On Tuesday, though, after Trump’s second round of invective, Hunt tweeted that the President had been “disrespectful and wrong to our Prime Minister and my country.”) Meanwhile, Liam Fox, the U.K.’s Trade Secretary, told the BBC that, as luck would have it, he had a meeting with Ivanka Trump on his calendar, and he would take that opportunity to apologize to her personally. (Darroch was supposed to be at that meeting, too; he no longer plans to attend.) Nigel Farage, the tiresome head of the new Brexit Party, said that Darroch should be fired at once.
In part, this is a story about British politics. One of the premises that the Brexiteers operate from is that breaking with the E.U. will allow them to negotiate the independent trade deal of their dreams with the United States, which will, in turn, help them to tell the E.U. who’s boss, and for that they want Trump. The cables are said to have been circulated to only a limited number of people in the May government, and it has not yet been determined who leaked them, but there is widespread speculation that their release has something to do with internecine Tory-Brexiteer politics. Trump, for his part, portrayed Darroch’s observations as sour Brexit grapes. “He should speak to his country, and Prime Minister May, about their failed Brexit negotiation, and not be upset with my criticism” of its handling, he said, in a screed that stretched over three tweets. “I told @theresa_may how to do that deal, but she went her own foolish way-was unable to get it done. A disaster!” That analysis is no more realistic or self-aware than the formula that Trump has publicly offered for resolving the complexities of Brexit: “I would have sued.” The British have had any number of irrational responses to Brexit. But Darroch’s conclusion about Trump’s Presidency—“We don’t really believe this Administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept”—is not in that category.
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But the mortification here is not only for the Tories, or for Trump. Darroch’s cables should, rightly, also be an embarrassment to the Republican Party, and to all those who work with Trump. In the summer of 2017, Darroch wrote, “We could also be at the beginning of a downward spiral, rather than just a rollercoaster; something could emerge that leads to disgrace and downfall.” By last month, though, in assessing Trump’s reëlection chances, he was writing that there has been a key change since the 2016 campaign: the institutional Republican Party was now “four-square behind him.”
The people around the President, whom Darroch described as his “gatekeepers,” were, to the Ambassador’s eye, also susceptible to flattery and glitz. They loved being part of Trump’s state visit to the U.K., in June, he wrote, “telling us that this had been a visit like no other – the hottest ticket of their careers.” In their “dazzled” state, Darroch wrote, they would open doors for the U.K.
Darroch attended the rally in Orlando, in June, at which Trump launched his reëlection campaign, and he described the joy of the President’s supporters. The crowd was overwhelmingly white but “with a pretty even mix of men and women, young and old.” The answers that Trump offered to the problems facing the country satisfied the crowd, Darroch thought, even though—or maybe especially because—“as is standard at these rallies, the language was incendiary, and a mix of fact and fiction.” Thanks largely to the support of Trump’s base, Darroch thought that Trump had “a credible path” to victory. Despite all the scandals around him, Trump might even “emerge from the flames, battered but intact, like Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of The Terminator.” (Arnold Schwarzenegger, as it happens, briefly replaced Trump as the host of “The Celebrity Apprentice.”) Much depended, Darroch said, “on who the Democrats choose.” That is true, and Trump knows it. One hopes that the Democrats do, too.