George W. Bush famously told us that after spending some time with Vladimir Putin he got a “sense of his soul” and found the Russian to be trustworthy.
We all know how wrong that assessment ended up being.
Did President Trump just have a similar experience with Chinese President (and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party) Xi Jinping?
For a long time, Trump was constantly bashing China on his Twitter feed. His tough talk about trade deficits and playing hardball with the Chicoms earned him a lot of support from voters.
Remember, China is not a friend of the United States!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2014
China just hacked our federal government & stole gov. workers’ information. Why do our leaders let China get away with this?! No respect.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2015
As China and the rest of the World continue to rip off the U.S. economically, they laugh at us and our president over the riots in Ferguson!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 25, 2014
Now it looks like Trump has a bromance going on with Xi—at least superficially.
President Donald Trump told Fox and Friends on Tuesday he didn’t live up to a campaign promise to stare down China over manipulating its currency because, well, he got along better than he thought with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“I didn’t soften my stance,” Trump said. “Look, China came to the United States, the President, who I really developed a very good relationship with. I think he is a terrific person. I really got to know him very well over a two-day period. we were together hours and hours and hours by ourselves. We had a 15-minute scheduled meeting and it lasted for three hours. the same thing happened the next day. We have a good chemistry together.”
It’s hard not to look at that and recall Bush seeing Putin’s soul. Trump spent six hours with one of America’s biggest geo-political adversaries and suddenly everything’s cool. That’s all it took to convince the President that he was wrong all those times he complained about China manipulating currency and basically screwing America over every chance they got.
Of course, the situation with the “crazy fat kid” in North Korea must play some role in this transformation. Perhaps Trump is convinced that the Norks are that big of a threat that it requires him to kiss a little butt.
“What am I going to start trade war with China in the middle of him working on a bigger problem with North Korea?” Trump said. “I’m dealing with China with great respect. I have great respect for him. We’ll see what he can do. Maybe he won’t be able to help. That’s possible. I think he is trying. Maybe he won’t be able to help. That’s a whole differential story.”
Trump later added:
“What am I going to do in the middle of him talking to North Korea? I’m going to hit him with currency manipulation? This is a fake media that does a number – think of it. (Xi) is working so nicely that many coal ships have been sent back. Fuel is being sent back. They’re not dealing the same way. Nobody has ever seen it like that. Nobody has ever seen such a positive response on our behalf from China. The fake media goes, ‘Donald Trump has changed his stance on China.’ I haven’t changed my stance. China is trying to help us. I don’t know if they’re going to be able to or not. But why would I want to start heavy heavy trade or currency statements against somebody who is out there right now trying to stop what could be a very bad situation. You understand that.”
The problem is that Trump has reneged on so many of the most forceful promises he made on the campaign trail that it’s tough to take him at his word. During the campaign you would often hear criticism of Trump taking on the opinions of the last person to whom he spoke. That’s an easy claim to believe about a guy who—even according to some of his supporters—doesn’t have an ideological core.
It’s also easy to believe that Trump can be manipulated by stroking his ego and China greasing the skids for some of first-daughter Ivanka’s business deals probably buys a lot of good will.
Let’s hope this is all a matter of political theater and prioritizing threats to American interests and not another example of a President getting seduced by a communist.