Though it’s been a while since President Trump has given a substantial interview to an American media outlet beyond Fox News, on Wednesday, he decided to sit down for an exclusive with British tabloid The Sun. In the interview, Trump attacked British Prime Minster Theresa May, right as the prime minister was welcoming the president to the United Kingdom. “May has wrecked Brexit.. US deal is off!” the cover read.
This is absolutely mad. The Sun has an exclusive interview with Trump who is dumping on Theresa May. pic.twitter.com/MHvNtQfHyS
— Mark Di Stefano 🤙🏻 (@MarkDiStef) July 12, 2018
The focus of Trump’s criticism was May’s plan to remove the UK from the European Union. “If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal,” Trump said in reference to a potential trade deal. He called May’s Brexit strategy “very unfortunate,” noting that he “told [her] how to do it, but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me.”
The comments dominated the media’s coverage of Trump’s trip to the UK, which followed a contentious NATO summit in Belgium. The cover of the Daily Mirror read “Donald Thump” alongside “The Ego Has Landed.” Several other papers ran similarly disparaging headlines. Despite citing his mother’s Scottish birth as a way to prove his UK bonafides, the nation’s national paper published a story calling Trump an “appalling human being.” British officials were shocked as well, with members of Parliament describing Trump’s comments as “repulsive,” “divisive” and “humiliating,” among other choice adjectives. “Trump is a racist and disrespects our nation,” said Labour MP Anna Turley. “Why does he get to meet our Queen? And those Tories saying we should respect him simply because he is elected president – by that logic shouldn’t he respect our prime minister and London’s mayor?” (Trump also poured fuel on his long-running feud with London Mayor Sadiq Khan while speaking with The Sun, saying he has done a “bad job” on terrorism.)
On Friday, Trump attempted to tamp down the outrage by flat-out denying he was critical of May. “I didn’t criticize the prime minister,” the president said. “I have a lot of respect for the prime minister.” He added that he recorded the interview and “we have it for your enjoyment if you’d like it.” Reporters who reached out to the White House were not provided with any audio of the conversation.
Trump seems to think he came up with the idea of recording interviews to ensure accuracy.
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 13, 2018
Prior to the press conference with May, Trump and his underlings did all they could to save face after the story was published. The president maintained that his relationship with the prime minister is “very, very strong,” while commending her work at the NATO summit earlier this week. On Friday morning, he held her hand. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was present as the interview was conducted, released a statement that read like a note a middle schooler might have a friend pass to a crush.
White House just issued this. pic.twitter.com/sXNLLMpR58
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) July 13, 2018
Sticking with the grade school theme, Trump on Friday said May is “going to do the best” regarding Brexit, and said that he gives “our relationship with the UK, in terms of a grade, the highest level of special.”
As with most of Trump’s gaffes, bashing May a day before she welcomed him to England does not appear to have been some sort of four-dimensional power play beyond the understanding of everyone but the president. Trump is predisposed to attack anyone he sees as vulnerable, and he clearly just couldn’t help himself. “He spoke from the heart,” The Sun‘s Tom Newton Dunn, who conducted the interview, told the BBC. “He spoke as an impassioned, idealogical Brexit-eer, without any forethought as to the consequences of what he was saying.”
So riled up was Trump during the interview that he reportedly “swatted” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders away when she tried to end it. “He is unchallenged in his own organization,” said Dunn. “It’s like being in the court of a medieval emperor.”
On Friday, The Sun responded to Trump’s claim that Dunn’s story was fake: “To say the President called us ‘fake news’ with any serious intent is, well…fake news.”