THE MEMO: Trump faces test with UN address

THE MEMO: Trump faces test with UN address
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When President TrumpDonald TrumpProject Veritas surveilled government officials to expose anti-Trump sentiments: report Cheney: Fox News has 'a particular obligation' to refute election fraud claims The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? MORE addresses the United Nations General Assembly for the first time on Tuesday, much of the political world, both right and left, will be on tenterhooks.

The combative president has expressed skepticism of the global institution and has sometimes conducted diplomacy by strafing foes from his Twitter account.

But Trump is aware of the stakes and enjoys the kind of pomp and circumstance the event requires. More generally, he has a predilection for avoiding in-person confrontations even as he relishes sparking controversy from a distance. 


The question is which side of Trump will be on display in New York on Tuesday. 

Trump got off to a cautious start on Monday, couching his desire for reform of the U.N. in diplomatic terms at a forum. 

Most observers expect Trump will continue in a similar vein — but they know that nothing is guaranteed. 

“I actually think if it is Teleprompter Trump, it could be good for him,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. “But going off-script is always the danger.” 

Trump has developed a habit of conducting foreign policy in inflammatory terms, generating tension with U.S. allies.

On Sunday, he recounted a meeting with the president of South Korea the previous evening, tweeting, “Asked him how Rocket Man is doing.”  


Most people took “Rocket Man” to be North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, an assumption that national security adviser H.R. McMaster said he shared during a weekend interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

In the aftermath of the recent terror attack on the London Underground, which caused no fatalities but injured around 30 people, the president tweeted about “a loser terrorist” — something that caused apparent displeasure to British Prime Minister Theresa May. 

“I don’t think it’s helpful for anyone to speculate on what is an ongoing investigation,” May said also on “This Week.”

In his one-on-one meetings on Monday, with French President Emmanuel Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump offered a more conventional approach most of the time.

He created a brief flurry of excitement when he suggested — apparently humorously — that he would like to have a July 4 military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in the manner of France’s Bastille Day celebrations. 

But otherwise, his comments were unremarkable. He promised to give a push for peace between Israel and the Palestinians “an absolute go” during remarks with Netanyahu and told Macron that he had won “one of the great election victories of all time” and was doing “a terrific job.” 

Tuesday will bring a stiffer test, as Trump tries to rally an international community that is deeply skeptical of him to put greater pressure on North Korea. The leaders of Russia and China — both nations that are permanent Security Council members — are not attending the summit.

“The upside for the president is that he has got the moral high ground, talking to the U.N. and saying, ‘What is this body for, it not helping seek solutions to tough problems?’ ” said GOP strategist Brad Blakeman, who was a senior staff member in former President George W. Bush’s White House.

But, Blakeman added, “the downside is that the president is being disrespected by world leaders who chose to take a pass.”

Trump is expected to call for the international community to try to rein in other U.S. adversaries, including Iran. The administration faces an imminent decision on whether to certify that Tehran is in compliance with the terms of the nuclear deal signed in 2015.

Given the complexities of the issues, even observers who are critical of Trump expect that it is more likely that he will stick to a script.

“The bar is so low that just hitting the mark helps him,” said Trippi, who noted that Trump’s performance at another big moment — his address to a joint session of Congress in February — fit a similar template.

“He has been in these settings where you are used to seeing a president give a big speech. When he does that and follows the script, he does very well. It’s when he starts going off the prompter, and starts spouting off or ad-libbing, that it usually turns out to be a disaster for him.” 

Others noted that even when Trump does deliver an unusually conventional speech, a return to more idiosyncratic ways — often via his Twitter account — is often not far behind

Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor who specializes in communications, noted that Trump might temper his previous skepticism of the U.N., saying that he is “sometimes more malleable than you expect."

On the other hand, Berkovitz added, “I don’t expect to be as surprised by what he says at the U.N. as by what he might tweet an hour later.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.