The Memo: European visitors could spell trouble for President Trump

The next few days have a European flavor for President TrumpDonald TrumpNew Capitol Police chief to take over Friday Overnight Health Care: Biden officials says no change to masking guidance right now | Missouri Supreme Court rules in favor of Medicaid expansion | Mississippi's attorney general asks Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade Michael Wolff and the art of monetizing gossip MORE. But they could leave a bitter aftertaste rather than providing him with a respite from domestic battles like healthcare reform.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny will be at the White House on Thursday for the traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebration. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit with Trump on Friday, a meeting postponed from Tuesday because of winter weather. 


There are complications to each occasion.

Kenny has faced calls at home to boycott the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in protest at Trump’s policies in general, and those on immigration and refugees in particular. An Irish senator is among those promoting an event in New York on Friday to marshal anti-Trump forces.

Merkel and Trump, meanwhile, have often been at odds. He criticized her willingness to allow large numbers of refugees into Germany as “insane.” His views on NATO and trade have also ruffled German feathers.

More broadly, both Kenny and Merkel are firm believers in the European Union. Trump is not. He is close to British politician Nigel Farage — who championed the British exit from the European Union — and often draws parallels between his own campaign for the presidency and anti-EU sentiment in Britain.

Both Kenny and Merkel will be under domestic pressure to show they can keep their distance from Trump.

An opinion poll last year from the Pew Research Center found a mere 9 percent of Europeans expressed confidence that Trump would “do the right thing” regarding world affairs if elected.  

At the time, 59 percent had confidence in Trump’s general election opponent, Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonJill Biden takes starring role at difficult Olympics Club for Growth goes after Cheney in ad, compares her to Clinton Sanders to campaign for Turner in Ohio MORE. President Obama enjoyed the confidence of significantly more Europeans — 77 percent — than either of his would-be successors.

The traditional St. Patrick’s Day ceremony, at which the U.S. president is typically presented with a bowl of shamrock by a visiting Irish prime minister, or taoiseach, is normally a controversy-free affair.

Not so this year. The Irish Labor Party leader, Brendan Howlin, is among those who called for Kenny not to make the annual trip.

Describing Trump as “openly hostile” to Irish values, Howlin said in a statement that “the only thing a visit by the Taoiseach to the White House could achieve would be to present Ireland as a supine supporter of Trumpism.”

Even those in Ireland who think Kenny is right to make the trip express some serious reservations. An editorial in the country’s most influential newspaper, The Irish Times, lamented that even if Kenny brought a “robust message of disapproval” to the White House, “his very attendance will be portrayed as a humiliating kowtowing to one whose values we clearly do not share.”

An Irish Labor Party senator, Aodhan O’Riordain, has emerged as one of the leading voices most critical of Trump. In the immediate wake of November’s elections, a speech in which O’Riordain called the president-elect “a fascist” and “a monster” went viral on social media.

O’Riordain is among the leading organizers of the “Irish Stand,” an anti-Trump event to be held on Friday at New York’s Riverside Church, the venue where Martin Luther King Jr. made an influential anti-Vietnam War speech.

“On the day when everybody in America feels Irish, or celebrates being Irish, it’s important that we take a pause to reflect on the fact that the Irish story is an immigrant story,” O’Riordain told The Hill. 

“On the very first St Patrick’s Day since Trump’s election, it would be wrong not to find common cause with other immigrant communities, who feel very uncertain and fearful at this time.”

Trump’s election, however, has clearly heartened others, such as euroskeptics, nationalists and some on the far right. 

The French hard-right leader Marine Le Pen praised Trump’s travel ban and said criticism of it was in “bad faith.” Farage spoke at Trump rallies during the campaign and, last month, delivered a celebratory address at Conservative Political Action Conference. He has cultivated a friendship with the president.

The improving fortunes of hard-right European populists like Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are also seen by some as part of the same tide that lifted Trump to the White House.

While Trump critics have sought to link him to the most toxic elements of the European far-right, others see him merely as a politician in tune with a grassroots drive against globalism and the excessive dilutions of national sovereignty by a federal “super-state.”

“I think the one area of real change [with Trump’s election] is the U.S. approach to the European project,” said Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “President Trump is certainly far more Euro-skeptical than any of his recent predecessors.” 

The Memo is a reported column primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.