French President-elect Emmanuel Macron on Sunday defeated a candidate President Trump had kinda, sorta endorsed — by a scant 32 points. And the White House's muted response to the result seemed pretty telling.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer issued a cursory statement, while President Trump sent a similarly worded tweet. Here's Spicer's full, two-sentence statement:
We congratulate President-elect Macron and the people of France on their successful presidential election. We look forward to working with the new President and continuing our close cooperation with the French government.
And here's what Trump tweeted:
That's it — for the new president of one of the United States' top allies in the world.
By contrast, here's what Trump tweeted Monday morning about Sunday's other big victor: PGA Champions Tour winner John Daly, whom Trump assured us was a “great guy”:
In a vacuum, the differences between the reactions could be dismissed as coincidence. But it isn't the first time Trump's treatment of a foreign leader seems to have revealed his true feelings.
The White House has offered praise and arguably legitimacy to authoritarian leaders and human rights abusers up to and including North Korea's Kim Jong Un and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte in recent weeks, but it apparently didn't see the need to say nice things about Macron.
Ditto Trump's strange decision not to shake hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a White House photo op back in March. White House press secretary Sean Spicer later said Trump didn't hear the suggestion that they shake hands, but Trump has seemed to know that handshakes were expected in every other photo op he's done with a foreign leader. And his body language with Merkel was awkward, to say the least. (Trump, of course, once attacked Merkel as a “catastrophic” leader for Germany.)
Diplomacy is often more of an art than a science — a delicate dance conducted via gesture and interaction. It's also often open to interpretation, as the White House's postures toward Macron and Merkel certainly are. But there do seem to be some categories forming when it comes to Trump's interactions with foreign leaders, and he's offered some adversarial and authoritarian leaders diplomatic gestures while not going out of his way to appear friendly with allies he may have disagreements with.
Below, we recap the treatment Trump has given some leaders, but conspicuously not others — and vice versa. This post will be updated going forward.
(Some color-coding is involved. Red = authoritarian leader. Orange = strategic rival. Green = ally. Blue = other.)
Justin Trudeau (Canada)
Shinzo Abe (Japan)
Malcolm Turnbull (Australia)
Theresa May (United Kingdom)
Mahmoud Abbas (Palestinian Authority)
Xi Jinping (China)
Abdel Fatah al-Sissi (Egypt) — Sissi is a strongman leader under whose leadership the country has become known for repression and human rights abuses, and President Obama refused to invite him to the White House.
Angela Merkel (Germany)
Kim Jong Un (North Korea) — “At a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie.”)
Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines) — Trump praised him for “doing a great job considering the weight and the enormity of the conditions in the Philippines,” according to Duterte spokesman Ernesto Abella
Sissi — “I just want to let everybody know, in case there was any doubt, that we are very much behind President al-Sissi. He's done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation.”
Narendra Modi (India) — According to a readout, Trump “expressed support for the prime minister's economic reform agenda” after success in state-level elections in March
Merkel — At a joint news conference in March, Trump mostly just thanked Germany as a country for being an ally in NATO and the fight against ISIS. A sampling:
I want to thank the Chancellor for her leadership in supporting NATO and its efforts in Afghanistan. This has come at significant cost, including the lives of over 50 German soldiers, whose sacrifice we greatly honor. I also appreciate Chancellor Merkel’s leadership, along with the French president, to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, where we ideally seek a peaceful solution. Most importantly, our two countries must continue to work together to protect our people from radical Islamic terrorism and to defeat ISIS. I applaud Chancellor Merkel for Germany’s contributions, both civilian and military, as a counter-ISIS coalition member.
Invitation for official meeting
Enrique Peña Nieto (Mexico) — Nieto canceled a late January meeting, in the face of criticism at home
Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey) — Trump caused controversy by calling Erdogan to offer congratulations on the vote last month. Erdogan will visit next week despite widespread concerns in the Western world about the vote that consolidated his power and drew a hesitant statement from the State Department.
Kim Jong Un — Trump said he would be “honored” to meet with Kim but suggested the meeting would require preconditions
Vladimir Putin (Russia) — While the two sides have discussed a possible meeting this summer, nothing has been decided.
Macron — It's early, of course. And Trump plans to meet with Macron at a NATO summit later this month, the White House said Monday. But keep an eye on this, because the meeting with Erdogan was planned just a few days after his victory.
Method of congratulations on election win
Frank-Walter Steinmeier (president of Germany)
Macron -- the phone call came a day after the statements