— Analysis —
To be clear from the start: No, he is not Ronald Reagan and she is not Margaret Thatcher — and this certainly is not 1981. Still, any false analogies aside, today's White House meeting between brand new U.S. President Donald Trump and newish British Prime Minister Theresa May is charged with the kind of high stakes that tend to evoke the ghosts of history.
Much will no doubt be said about the Anglo-American "special relationship," which helps explain why May will be the first foreign leader to meet Trump since last Friday's inauguration. There will also be common ground claimed on fighting terrorism and reviving economic growth. Indeed, the vote for Brexit — which May is now administering — as well as Trump's election, have both prompted positive news from markets.
But there is much that divides the two new leaders, both in style and substance. May is a career establishment politician known for her caution and understatement. Trump is Trump. The American leader has spent the first week in office making it very clear that his overturn-these-tables campaign promises, both at home and abroad, were for real. Already, what was supposed to be his next big White House welcome, of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, has been canceled following the bombastic back-and-forth about Trump's plans to build a wall on the U.S. southern border, and make Mexico pay for it.
Back on the other side of the Atlantic, May has not only made it clear that she disagrees with Trump's declaration that NATO is "obsolete," but that she suggests a much different stance on Russia from the apparent coziness of the new U.S. president. May described her approach yesterday as "engage but beware."
Tim Bale, a politics professor at Queen Mary University of London, told The Washington Post that the Trump-May relationship is bound to be different than the Reagan-Thatcher duo. "The problem is that Ronnie and Maggie had a common enemy in the Soviet Union and world communism." It's worth noting that after bidding adieu to May, next on Trump's agenda is a Saturday telephone call with Vladimir Putin.
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