Trump held court for more than an hour during an appearance at a Sept. 27 Protect the House PAC event at Trump International Hotel in Washington, speaking on a wide range of topics, two attendees told me after the event. Fresh off his 80-minute news conference following meetings at the United Nations the day before, the president gave the donor crowd a show that they said took Trump’s increasingly freewheeling, no-holds-barred public speaking style to a new level.
Trump was roasting people inside the room, telling stories about his private interactions with world leaders, discussing sensitive military operations and bragging about his accomplishments. At one point, he began criticizing Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was leading Canada’s negotiations with the United States on the trade deal that both allies announced three days later.
“She hates America,” Trump said, referring to Canada’s negotiator without using Freeland’s name. He was in the midst of a 10-minute riff on Canada and the then-ongoing trade negotiations, not dissimilar to remarks he gave at the previous day’s news conference in New York. In those public remarks, Trump said, “We don’t like their representative very much,” again without saying Freeland’s name but referring to her directly.
Inside the Trump hotel fundraising event, Trump also asserted that the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, “hates America.” Trump then said this was a shame because female leaders are often better than male leaders; all the more the pity, he declared, that these two women hate America.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on Trump’s remarks as related by the two attendees, but did say: “It was a highly successful night and the president had the crowd in great spirits.”
That’s 100 percent accurate, my sources told me. The crowd was astonished but thoroughly entertained by the president’s comments, which included regular stump-speech lines about the economy mixed with shout-outs and gentle jibes at friends Trump recognized in the room.
“He was en fuego. People were lapping it up. They loved it,” one attendee told me. “Then after about an hour, everybody was like, ‘Okay, let’s wrap this up and get out of here.’ ”
Many of Trump’s stories didn’t seem to have a point. For example, he reminisced fondly about his May 2017 visit to Saudi Arabia and bragged about how he had refused to bow to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who Trump said was “right out of central casting.” Trump had seen then-President Barack Obama bow to the king and had no intention of doing the same.
But then Trump revealed that the king recently called him personally to ask for the United States’ help with an unspecified but large military operation. Trump said he told King Salman it was too expensive and in order for the United States to cooperate, Saudi Arabia would have to foot the bill, which Trump pegged at $4 billion. Trump declined to reveal the nature of the military operation or assistance to the donors, saying it was “probably highly classified.”
Trump said Iran would take over Saudi Arabia over in about two weeks if the United States didn’t defend it, a comment he has made in public several times.
The president also said he really enjoyed his November 2017 trip to Beijing to visit Chinese President Xi Jinping. But Trump joked that the Chinese government must be wondering now what they did wrong on the visit, considering how tough he was being with Beijing on trade today. Trump said he and Xi were buddies, but maybe not anymore.
With a normal president in a normal environment, Trump saying that two foreign leaders “hate America” while donors chuckle might precipitate a major diplomatic incident. But that’s perhaps unlikely now, mainly because Trump has already changed his tune. He praised Canada in remarks Monday and Tuesday while celebrating the new trade deal.
More broadly, Washington and the rest of the word are getting used to Trump’s shtick and declining to panic every time he says something undiplomatic. Today’s “fire and fury” can be tomorrow’s “We fell in love.” The U.N. diplomats laughing during Trump’s speech in New York last week were laughing both with him and at him. We’re all in on the joke now, for better or worse.
What’s clear is that Trump is feeling more comfortable than ever talking at length about how he sees foreign policy and the United States’ role in the world, in both public and private. It can be both scary and entertaining.