PARIS – This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
If the potential for a productive relationship between President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron initially seemed a scant possibility, Trump's whirlwind Bastille Day visit to France suggested that the two may be en route to establishing a partnership of the kind the U.S. president currently shares with few other world leaders, especially in Western Europe.
Despite Trump's staggering unpopularity in France – not to mention the outrage over Macron's decision to invite his American counterpart on the country's signature national holiday – the newly minted French president appeared to make a daring gamble: With the United States increasingly isolated on the global stage, Macron sought to position himself as Trump's principal interlocutor in a region that has shown the White House little but disdain.
At least for the moment, that role is Macron's for the taking – and he may succeed in securing it.
In a rare news conference Thursday – in which both presidents took two questions – Trump made no secret of his delight at Macron's invitation.
“France is America's first and oldest ally. A lot of people don't know that,” he said. “It was a long time ago, but we are together. And I think together, perhaps, more so than ever. The relationship is very good.”
Despite the historic “special relationship” between the United States and Britain, Trump has shown little interest in British affairs since his inauguration, further delaying a traditional visit to the country until 2018. And although German Chancellor Angela Merkel re cently tried to patch things up with Trump at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, she has done little to hide her distaste.
Enter Macron, an outspoken advocate of globalization and an “ever closer” European Union who initially seemed an anti-Trump figure on the world stage – and even a temporary antagonist of the U.S. president.
After Trump essentially supported Macron's rival, the far-right Marine Le Pen, in this year's French presidential election, Macron then strong-armed Trump in a six-second handshake when the two men met for the first time in Brussels in May.
The next week, Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, carefully enunciating that he was “elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” Macron responded – in English – in a speech in which he urged people the world over to “Make our planet great again,” a clear play on Trump's campaign slogan.
The Paris visit, however, seemed to establish the inklings of a working relationship between these two seemingly incompatible figures.
In a series of posts after his departure, Trump wished Macron “congratulations” on Bastille Day, offered his condolences for the victims of the Nice terrorist attack last year and thanked his host for what he characterized as a worthwhile meeting.
“Emmanuel Macron wants to try to prevent the president of the United States being isolated,” Christophe Castaner, a spokesman for Macron, told French reporters this month. “He sometimes makes decisions that we disagree with, on climate change, for example.”
But as Castaner put it: “We can do two things. Either you can say, 'We're not speaking, because you haven't been nice,' or we can reach out to him to keep him in the circle.”