But it wasn’t always so. In fact, Johnson’s past criticism of Trump was at times even more pitched than that of many of the Republicans who derided Trump in 2016, then just a Republican presidential candidate, as dangerous and unhinged — and have since come around to support him.
Some of this has less to do with Trump than it does with Johnson, who before becoming British foreign minister in 2016 made a habit of attacking foreign leaders and not mincing words. He at one point called George W. Bush “a cross-eyed Texan warmonger, unelected, inarticulate, who epitomizes the arrogance of American foreign policy.” When a bust of Winston Churchill was removed from Barack Obama’s Oval Office (along with others), Johnson derided it as “a symbol of the part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire — of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender.” In 2012, he hit back at then-GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney — whom he dismissively deemed “a guy called Mitt Romney” — for questioning London’s readiness for the upcoming Olympics.
Johnson has since telegraphed a softer approach to Trump, but there are already signs that could be tested. When Trump recently urged four nonwhite congresswoman to “go back” to their countries — even though three of the four are not immigrants — Johnson called it “completely unacceptable.” And Trump hasn’t exactly been shy about poking the top U.S. ally, leading to the occasional rebuke from May.
Johnson also has been criticized for being too deferential — even sycophantic — toward Trump. That’s a criticism many of Trump’s GOP allies have weathered too, but they have very different constituencies to answer to than does Johnson. And given Johnson seems to have said what he really thinks about Trump in the past, it will be fascinating to see how he threads the diplomatic needle.