Special relationship? It might have to wait until Cameron bids farewell

Published by The Daily Telegraph (5th May, 2016)

One thing united experts as they surveyed an over-crowded field many months ago: Donald Trump stood no chance of winning the Republican nomination. He was attention-seeking, He was toxic. He would quit when the going got tough. But the experts got it wrong. Spectacularly wrong. Trump trounced the party establishment with a maverick insurgency.

Now pundits say Trump cannot win the presidency. Certainly the odds are against him. Yet nothing can be ruled out in these tempestuous times. And this places our prime minister in a pickle. Last year David Cameron called the man now one step from the White House ‘divisive, stupid and wrong’ when Trump purposed barring Muslims from the United States. He was right; this is a corrosive and hateful suggestion. Yet this was extremely undiplomatic language towards a potential president. Already Trumps’s advisers are seeking an apology.

Global politics relies heavily on personal relationships – and as seen several times in recent history, this is particularly true between US presidents and British prime ministers. Think of Reagan and Thatcher, Bush and Blair (a duo that showed the downside to such buddy acts). We have seen this again with Cameron and Obama. Clearly there will be no similar bromance with Trump, a prickly and proud character unlikely to forget such public slights.

So we might expect a slight cooling of the transatlantic relationship in the early stages of a Trump presidency (although it seems strange to even be considering such a thing with any degree of seriousness). Yet realpolitik tends to over-ride personal relationships; even the famously tight friendship between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had its hiccups over the invasions of Grenada and the Falklands. And as the PM stood his ground regarding an apology, one of his advisers told me: if Trump wins then ‘it’s a different kettle of fish and we’d have to work with him.’

The Cameron circle privately admits their sympathies lie with Clinton, whom they think will win. But expect to hear a more emollient tone from Downing Street towards Trump. While bridges can be built and the relationship patched-up, however, it cannot be fully repaired given use of such undiplomatic language. So if the billionaire pulls off a political shock to compare alongside Leicester City’s sporting upset, it will probably take Cameron’s successor to fully restore the special relationship.

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