The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump complains Ukraine ‘hated’ him as a candidate, but lots of foreign officials opposed him

Then a presidential candidate, Donald Trump rehearses for a speech, with his campaign manager Paul Manafort and daughter Ivanka Trump at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July 2016. (Evan Vucci/AP)

“Ukraine hated me. They were after me in the election. They wanted Hillary Clinton to win,” President Trump said early Friday in a telephone interview with “Fox & Friends.”

The president’s comments came after a week of impeachment hearings in which Republicans argued that Ukraine opposed Trump before the 2016 election, citing as evidence an op-ed that Valeriy Chaly, a former Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, wrote in which he criticized the Republican candidate.

But if Trump’s critical view of Ukraine is based on the idea that the country’s leaders opposed him before his election, he has a far longer list of potential enemies. Before he was elected, foreign officials spoke out about the New York businessman and political novice in unusually stark terms.

Many of these criticisms make Chaly’s op-ed look benign. “Vulture,” is how Gerard Araud, then the French ambassador to the United States, referred to Trump in a November 2015 tweet (he later deleted the tweet).

In contrast, the Ukrainian ambassador had only argued in his op-ed that Trump’s dismissive remarks about Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014, had left his country “unsure what to think, since Trump’s comments stand in sharp contrast to the Republican Party platform.”

More cutting remarks were made by Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s Interior Minister, who wrote on Facebook that Trump’s comments about Crimea were “shameful” and shared a photograph of a mural that showed the president kissing Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

But at the time, this sentiment was hardly unusual. Months before Trump’s election, The Washington Post collected more than 60 negative remarks made about the Republican candidate by foreign officials.

The list is notable for its breadth, with officials from all over the world weighing in. Though many spoke off the record, others did not.

“He changes opinions like the rest of us change underwear,” the Danish foreign minister, Kristian Jensen, said in December 2015.

“His discourse is so dumb, so basic,” Ecuador’s then-president, Rafael Correa, said in March 2016.

“That’s the way Mussolini arrived and the way Hitler arrived,” Mexico’s then-president, Enrique Peña Nieto, said of Trump’s rhetoric the same month.

Even those we now think of as allies of Trump were critical of him as a campaigner. “The only reason I wouldn’t visit some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump,” Boris Johnson, at that point Britain’s foreign minister, said after Trump criticized London for what he called its lack of safety.

Important figures from key Middle Eastern allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates condemned Trump after he proposed a ban on all Muslim visitors to the United States in December 2015. Israel released a statement that said: “Prime Minister Netanyahu rejects Donald Trump’s recent remarks about Muslims.”

Even far-right leaders said they thought Trump had gone too far in his anti-immigration rhetoric and pugilistic political style.

“It would be a disaster for international politics if Trump gets anywhere near the nuclear button,” said Søren Espersen, a foreign affairs spokesperson for the far-right Danish People’s Party.

“He is very good at making speeches, but as a politician and a world leader?” said Jimmie Akesson, leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats. “No, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”

“Seriously, have you ever heard me say something like that?” French far-right politician Marine Le Pen said about Trump’s proposed Muslim ban.

Many of these comments were made long before the election, where it was widely assumed that Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate and an experienced politician and diplomat. After Trump was elected, Araud tweeted (and again deleted) that “a world is collapsing before our eyes.”

Trump continued to attract critics after taking office. However, he more frequently dishes out his own criticisms of others, and foreign leaders generally reined in their comments about the U.S. president in a bid to preserve a working relationship. The U.S. president’s own pugilistic instincts may be politically selective, too.

He engaged in unusual volleys of personal insults with Kim Jong Un at the start of his term, after North Korean state media called him a “dotard” and “old.” Trump suggested that Kim was “short and fat” — but now says he and the North Korean leader are “in love,” despite a lack of any progress in denuclearization talks.

Likewise, while his own ambassadors are allowed to criticize their hosts openly, Trump responded to a politically motivated leak of British Ambassador Kim Darroch’s private criticism about his presidency with such force that the veteran diplomat decided to step down.

Ukraine’s pre-election view of Trump is politically sensitive right now, as the president is accused of pressuring the country’s president to announce an investigation into allegations that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, along with an investigation into the actions of Hunter Biden, the son of political rival and former vice president Joe Biden.

During her testimony Thursday, Fiona Hill, former director for European and Russian affairs at the White House National Security Council, said that allegations that Ukraine interfered in the U.S. election were “a fictional narrative” promoted by Russian security services.

She also said that she knew of “an awful lot of senior officials in many governments, including our allied governments” who had criticized Trump.

“The difference here, however, is that that hasn’t had any major impact on his feelings towards those countries,” she added.

This post has been updated.