Suddenly, being President Trump isn’t any fun at all
Between North Korea-US summit and Michael Cohen's explosive testimony, Potus can’t catch a break
Branded a criminal by a former friend in Washington, then let down by his new friend Kim Jong Un in Vietnam, Donald Trump cut a lonely figure before returning home from North Korea nuclear talks on Thursday.
The US president’s usual fire was missing at a press conference marking the end of two days of negotiations to try and get Kim to give up nuclear weapons.
Trump made few of his customary quips and kept largely on topic, a far cry from the rambling, excited performance he put on after his first summit with Kim in Singapore last year.
This time he didn’t even seem angry, just tired.
That, quite possibly, was in part due to having stayed up to watch his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen testify in Washington – during Vietnam’s nighttime hours – that his old boss was a crook.
Trump lamented Congress’s scheduling. “They could have made it two days later or next week, and it would have been even better. They would have had more time,” he said bitterly.
Originally, the Kim summit in Hanoi seemed set to give Trump a chance to escape the Washington swamp.
Back home his pet project to build a wall on the Mexico border is embroiled in controversy and allegations of misconduct are mounting. But on the other side of the world, a chance to make history beckoned.
Trump heavily hyped the event, apparently believing that by sheer force of personality he could succeed where decades of diplomats have flopped, transforming North Korea from an isolated, nuclear-armed fortress state to Asian tiger and friend of the US.
He even let out that his name was being pushed for a Nobel Peace Prize.
By lunchtime on Thursday, though, it was clear that Trump’s bold gambit had failed for now. He and Kim couldn’t even agree on enough to issue a joint declaration and the summit ended two hours early.
“Sometimes you have to walk,” a deflated Trump said.
Hoping to get Kim to agree to fundamental cuts in his arsenal, Trump says he instead found himself facing impossible demands from the totalitarian leader for Washington to drop economic sanctions.
But Trump insisted that he and Kim remain buddies.
“There was a warmth that we have, and I hope it stays,” he said. “He’s quite a guy.” Clearly, Trump likes to be liked. For a president who stakes so much on his claim to be a star negotiator, that personal magic may even be the vital ingredient.
“Believe it or not I have a great relationship with almost very leader,” Trump told the press conference, ending his boast on a defensive note. “A lot of people find that hard to understand.” But there will never be any rescuing his once-great relationship with Cohen, a man who served him as lawyer and general fixer for a decade.
Cohen, about to go to prison for three years after being convicted of lying under oath, took the oath again on Wednesday in an extraordinarily theatrical congressional hearing.
Broadcast across the world on cable and US network channels, Cohen used the big stage to unload on his old boss, describing him as a “mobster“, “conman“, “cheat” and a “racist”.
As the Trump-Kim negotiations in Hanoi kicked off on Wednesday, many asked how the president would react.
Would he ignore the commotion back home to stay focused on the even-higher-stakes talks scheduled for early on Thursday morning? Or would he go back to his hotel and tune in? There was never really much doubt.
“I tried to watch as much as I could,” Trump said, before delivering a detailed critique in which he estimated that Cohen had lied about him “95% instead of 100%”.
With that, his less than happy Vietnam trip was over. A less than happy return home loomed.
“I’m about to get on a plane and fly back to a wonderful place called Washington DC,” Trump told the press conference. He sounded wearier than ever.