What a few days it’s been. Trump’s working visit to the UK was an emotional rollercoaster: the protesters brought their A game, while May held his hand again, just hours after his interview with the Sun where he’d endorsed her treacherous opponent, Boris Johnson. The Queen took one for the royal team — we’ve made her roll out the red carpet for worse people — though the other royals carefully made other plans. Trump ignored royal protocol (and, you know, basic manners) when he met the Queen. And then there was Piers Morgan. We’ve covered Piers Morgan here a few times before, and his interview with Trump aboard Air Force One totally lived down to our expectations.
If you want to read it yourself, you can find it here, but be warned: a) it’s Piers Morgan, and b) it’s the Mail on Sunday.
Morgan’s ‘strategy’ is clear from the start of the interview, which is about 1000 words into the piece. 1000 self-indulgent, masturbatory words about swivel chairs, M&Ms and how great and privileged Morgan is to be on Air Force One.
I’d been told we had a maximum of 15 minutes for the interview, due to the flight schedule.
That can get eaten up very quickly with Trump given his tendency to answer every question with lengthy hyperbolic boasts about how great he is and how well he’s doing.
As I’ve previously found to my cost, if you engage him too aggressively in one exchange over one issue, the plug can get pulled very swiftly.
So my Trump interview strategy, honed over at least 35 interviews with him over the years, has been to ask as many questions about as many issues as possible to get a wide range of responses.
I think that’s particularly important now he’s President, where his opinions are obviously so important.
Trump-haters will always scream blue murder that an interviewer doesn’t spend every second of his allotted time clubbing him over the head with a large hammer.
But I prefer to engage with Trump and listen to him in our interviews rather than berate and abuse him.
It’s clear that what follows isn’t going to be ‘hard-hitting journalism’. It’s not even ‘incisive chat show’. It’s a platform for Trump to lie unchallenged, and for Morgan to show off. Good start.
On meeting the Queen at Windsor Castle:
And it was beautiful, it was really beautiful but the Queen is terrific. She is so sharp, so wise, so beautiful. Up close, you see she’s so beautiful. She’s a very special person. And the way she’s conducted herself for so many years. And she’s got a lotta years left.
It got worse:
I asked if they’d discussed Brexit.
‘I did. She said it’s a very - and she’s right - it’s a very complex problem, I think nobody had any idea how complex that was going to be…Everyone thought it was going to be ‘Oh it’s simple, we join or don’t join, or let’s see what happens..’
‘Did she give you any clue as to which way she thinks about it?’
Trump suddenly clammed up.
‘Well, I can’t talk, you know I’ve heard very strongly from a lot of people, you just don’t talk about that conversation with the Queen, right? You don’t wanna do that…Let me tell you what I can talk about… she is an incredible woman, she is so sharp, she is so beautiful, when I say beautiful - inside and out. That is a beautiful woman.’
Firstly, STOP PERVING AT THE QUEEN. And there’s another breach of protocol right there. I can understand not bowing for political reasons (though it’s still pretty rude), but going for a handshake rather than waiting for the Queen to initiate was bad. Walking in front of her was bad. It’s not treason to speculate about how long a monarch will live anymore, but private conversations with the Queen are like the first rule of Fight Club. You don’t talk about it. Note how carefully she phrased her answer — “it’s a very complex problem” — that’s what cagey diplomacy looks like. Trump’s version is like a bull in a china shop.
Secondly, everyone on the Remain side knew Brexit would be complicated. Lots of people on the Leave side knew Brexit would be complicated. But no-one ever asked themselves, ‘TO JOIN OR NOT TO JOIN’. That debate was settled 45 YEARS AGO when we JOINED the EU. This was about LEAVING or REMAINING, hence the names. Seriously, Morgan, you let this comment pass?
On cutting a trade deal with the UK after Brexit:
‘We would make a great deal with the United Kingdom because they have product that we like. I mean they have a lot of great product. They make phenomenal things, you know, and you have different names - you can say “England”, you can say “UK”, you can say “United Kingdom” so many different - you know you have, you have so many different names - Great Britain. I always say: “Which one do you prefer? Great Britain? You understand what I’m saying?’
‘You know Great Britain and the United Kingdom aren’t exactly the same thing?’
‘Right, yeah. You know I know, but a lot of people don’t know that. But you have lots of different names. The fact is you make great product, you make great things. Even your farm product is so fantastic.’
You know that feeling when you’re in a class but you didn’t do the reading, and you have to answer a question and you just ramble, hoping that you don’t look like a complete idiot? Yeah. Trump failed miserably. Couldn’t Morgan gently ask a follow up about what sorts of products Trump claims to be talking about? No. Instead, he playfully reminds him that the nation he is visiting doesn’t just “have different names”, and lets Trump get away with “You know I know, but a lot of people don’t know that”. A lot of people, including his White House staff, who announced online that after this interview, Trump was ‘leaving to UK to go to Scotland’. (This has now been deleted.)
On Brexit itself:
Trump revealed at the press conference he had privately suggested Mrs May activate a ‘brutal option’ to bring the EU to heel.
I asked what it was.
‘Well I recommended her something, I gave her an option, I’d rather not tell you what that option is, but I think she might. I think it would’ve been great, but it’s not too late for her to do that necessarily.’
That ‘brutal option’ turned out to be ‘SUE THE EU’, which May laughingly revealed in an interview on Sunday morning. Why? How? Where? Is he seriously suggesting we take a case against the EU to the European Court of Justice, in order to break ties with…the European Court of Justice?
Brexit is complex, delicate and ideologically loaded. It has taken months to weigh up the different options, and even now, they are as clear as mud. What makes Trump think that he is in a position to offer strategic advice, when he has just admitted he doesn’t know what the UK is, he showed us earlier that he doesn’t understand what Brexit is, and as we saw in a shocking interview in Helsinki yesterday, he also doesn’t know what the EU is…
Asked in a TV interview to name his “biggest foe globally right now”, the US president started by naming the European Union, calling the body “very difficult” before ticking off other traditional rivals like Russia and China.
Hours earlier, British prime minister Theresa May revealed that Trump suggested she “sue the EU” rather than go into negotiations over Brexit.
“Well I think we have a lot of foes,” Trump told CBS News at his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland. “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now you wouldn’t think of the European Union but they’re a foe.”
Apparently taken aback, anchor Jeff Glor replied: “A lot of people might be surprised to hear you list the EU as a foe before China and Russia.”
But Trump insisted: “EU is very difficult. I respect the leaders of those countries. But - in a trade sense, they’ve really taken advantage of us.” (The Guardian)
There’s some interesting discussion of Trump and the EU here, if you click through for the thread:
"[Trump] told me to sue the EU."— David Allen Green (@davidallengreen) July 15, 2018
Morgan asked Trump to clarify what he meant when he said that European culture was being damaged by immigration.
‘I’m not going to mention specific countries, but you can pick the country and you can see what’s happening. Some of the countries would not take it. And they’re being really admonished by the European Union for not doing it.
‘You look at Hungary as an example. They’re not agreeing to do what some of the other countries did. Now it’s a very tough thing, on a humanitarian basis you’ve got to do something, and yet it is changing Europe. It’s seriously changing Europe.
‘You take a look at what’s happened in Paris, you take a look at what’s happened in London. You look at what’s going on - it’s changing Europe, and I don’t mean in a positive way. I’m not the president of Europe, I’m the president of the United States, and we have a strong border, we have a tough border. And we have a different problem, but similar in certain ways.’
‘It’. That’s quite telling. In the press conference with Theresa May, Trump was asked about immigration and gave an answer about terrorism. He is deliberately conflating the two, and it’s sickening. He makes a glancing reference to the word ‘humanitarian’ in his chat with Morgan, but just depersonalises the issue for the most part. This is left unquestioned, as is Trump’s last sentence, which is another example of a someone who has not done their homework, or hasn’t understood it.
On other world leaders:
‘Did you like him?’
‘I get along with him great, yeah. He’s very smart, great personality, he’s funny and tough, good negotiator…
‘He’s a ruthless dictator…’
‘Sure he is, he’s ruthless, but so are others. I mean, I could name plenty of others that we deal with that you don’t say the same thing about. I mean plenty of the people that I deal with are pretty ruthless people.’
That was Trump talking about that LOL-a-minute guy, Kim Jong-Un. Up next, Putin:
Look, if we can get along with Russia that’s a good thing. I don’t know him. I met him a couple of times, I met him at the G20.
‘I think we could probably get along very well. Somebody said are you friends or enemies? I said well it’s too early to say but right now I say we’re competitors but for the United States, and frankly the UK and other places, to get along with Russia and China and all of these other places…. Piers that’s a good thing, that’s not a bad thing. That’s a really good thing.’
Mueller might disagree about the whole ‘too early to tell’ part of that. Theresa May might disagree too. Remember the novichok attacks? Russian interference in the UK’s referendum? Any of this ringing a bell, Donald? Piers? ANYONE?
On the protests:
As we spoke, over 100,000 anti-Trump protestors were marching through the streets of London.
‘Some of them are protesting in my favour, you know that?’ he insisted. ‘There are many, many protests in my favour.’
This man’s capacity for denial is mind-boggling.
There are other moments too, but I’m on the verge of vomiting so I’ll summarise instead. Trump was cagey on Roe vs Wade, and confirmed he’ll run again in 2020. Morgan also called him “the most skilled exponent of Twitter in the world”.
Trump’s European tour continues. How many more diplomatic blunders can he fit in before he goes home? I dread to think.
(Header from Getty Images)