When French President Emmanuel Macron arrived to visit Justin Trudeau, it was a meeting of the two leaders who had developed relationships with Donald Trump. But the era of the Trump whisperer appears to be ending.
At least, there’s no sign the U.S. President is willing to listen anymore.
Mr. Trudeau’s been on the phone a lot with Mr. Trump lately, trying to convince the President not to include Canada in steel and aluminum tariffs ostensibly imposed on national-security grounds. But when Mr. Trudeau insisted in a May 25 call that Canada can’t be considered a threat, Mr. Trump reportedly replied, “Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?”
It doesn’t really matter that Mr. Trump might be pretending to nurse some a historical grudge left over from the War of 1812, or just joking. What matters is that Mr. Trump once seemed to make a few friends on the world stage, and though he didn’t change course for the sake of the relationship, he was often willing to ease a little, or play down difference or keep talking. Now, his attitude is different.
When Mr. Trump was planning to trigger U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA to mark his 100th day in office, a hastily organized campaign by the Trump administration’s pro-trade advisers, along with phone calls from Mr. Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, pulled him back.
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But now, a lot of those pro-trade advisers are gone and one of the replacements, Larry Kudlow, told reporters Wednesday that Mr. Trump is heading to a G7 Summit “sticking to his guns.” And Mr. Trump, according to one report, asked advisers to prepare new sanctions to penalize Canada for having the temerity to announce countervailing tariffs.
So when Mr. Macron strolled up the steps of Parliament to get a warm greeting from Mr. Trudeau, it was surely the prelude to a discussion – at a small dinner with only their spouses in the room − of whether there’s any kind of charm they can work on the President.
The two are mirror images: Gen X leaders, both centrists promising change, both handsome and charming, meeting in Mr. Trudeau’s Centre Block office in nattily tailored dark suits. Both also have a political base that doesn’t care for Mr. Trump, but decided they had to pull him close.
Mr. Macron hosted the U.S. President in Paris, took U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord with tactically worded opposition, and was invited for a touchy-feely visit in Washington in April, including the first state dinner that Mr. Trump hosted for a foreign leader.
But when Mr. Macron spoke to Mr. Trump on the phone recently to complain about the steel and aluminum tariffs, the tenor between the two was described as “terrible.” CNN cited a source who said that Mr. Macron thought their close relationship would allow him to speak his mind, but Mr. Trump didn’t like it.
That may have always been Mr. Trump’s temperament. But it also seems clear he’s now surrounded by a team that reinforces his own instincts.
That throws a curve into some of the charm-offensive strategies other governments have deployed. Even before Mr. Trump was inaugurated, Mr. Trudeau’s senior advisers rushed to make connection with senior White House advisers such as Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. Mr. Bannon is now long gone and Mr. Kushner doesn’t seem to lead trade files.
Mr. Trump’s previous economic adviser, Gary Cohn, was a pro-trade advocate. Mr. Kudlow, a former investment banker, Reagan administration official and conservative economic commentator, defended Mr. Trump’s tariffs as a tool to combat the protectionist policies of countries such as China, without for a moment acknowledging that imposing steel tariffs on Canada or Britain is itself a protectionist action.
It’s still unlikely Mr. Trump will get the big confrontation that’s been foreshadowed for this week’s G7 Summit. It’s not just Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Macron, but the leaders of Japan, Germany and Britain who have invested time in building a relationship with Mr. Trump. They’ll presumably try to deflect Mr. Trump’s steel action toward China, rather than them. But Mr. Trump’s giving every indication he’s not listening to those whispers anymore.