ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra.
Joining me tonight, Paula Reid, White House correspondent for CBS News; Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief for The Washington Post; Kimberly Atkins, senior Washington correspondent for WBUR, Boston’s NPR News Station; and Jerry Seib, executive Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal.
Sir Kim Darroch stepped down as British ambassador to the United Nations (sic; States) this week after cables surfaced in which he criticized President Trump. President Trump had this to say about the ambassador on Sunday.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) The ambassador has not served the U.K. well, I can tell you that. We’re not – we’re not big fans of that man, and he has not served the U.K. well.
MR. COSTA: And then the ambassador resigned and the president said this.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) I wish the British ambassador well, but they’ve got to stop their leaking problems there just like they have to stop them in our country.
MR. COSTA: His exit comes just weeks after President Trump was feted with a state visit to Britain. What does this mean for the future of the special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K.?
Phil, you’ve been to the British embassy. You know Sir Kim Darroch, a longtime diplomat in the – in Britain. He was the national security adviser for David Cameron as a nonpartisan national security adviser, well-respected in Washington. Was his situation in those cables unique or is it reflective of many ambassadors in Washington struggling to understand President Trump?
PHILIP RUCKER: It’s reflective, Bob, of I think pretty much every ambassador in Washington, and those cables could have come from any embassy, and in fact they read almost like the news stories that we were all writing at the time. These were not particularly racy cables, but Trump obviously seized on the press coverage of the cables and formed an opinion about the ambassador. But we should make a couple of corrections from what Trump said. His administration actually really respected Kim Darroch. They liked him. They would go to the embassy – to his residence for breakfast, for dinner, for meetings. Kellyanne Conway, for example, the presidential counselor, was a frequent guest at his parties. So this is not somebody that the administration never liked from the beginning.
GERALD SEIB: And I think the story here is the – is the leak more than the cables. As you said, the cables just kind of reflected conventional wisdom in Washington at the time. Who in the British government wanted to leak those cables to embarrass the ambassador and push him out? And you’ve got to believe this had to do with a big fight between the pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit forces in the British government, and the ambassador was roadkill, basically.
KIMBERLY ATKINS: And it could have complications, right? I mean, assuming that Brexit actually happens at some point, that means that the United States is going to have to negotiate a trade deal with Britain, and this could complicate that. That’s one reason why the red carpet was rolled out to President Trump when he went there on that visit. President Trump said afterwards that while he wasn’t a fan of Theresa May, that he very much appreciated what the queen did, so maybe that – (laughs) – bodes well for U.S.-British relations. But there could be some real consequences of this.
PAULA REID: Yeah, he absolutely values that special relationship, and how do you maintain a special relationship when you won’t even speak to the ambassador? But it was so fascinating, too, I was there to watch his interactions with the queen. It seemed it was a rare instance when he felt that a foreign dignitary was giving him the respect, the pomp and circumstance that he believes he deserves and that he ultimately craves.
MR. COSTA: Do you feel like Britain went to the brink trying to appeal to President Trump, if you were on that visit?
MS. REID: It certainly appeared that way, yeah. Every night was another dinner. They brought everyone, all the players except for maybe one American princess who was on maternity leave. But otherwise, everybody came to the table, and again, they put on what they do best, a big show to celebrate him and to honor him, and for him that’s rare.
MR. SEIB: Well, you know, substantively, you have to keep in mind that the British do still conduct policy closer to the U.S. than any of our other European allies. I mean, just this week the British basically stopped a tanker that was carrying Iranian oil near the Straits of Gibraltar, and the other Europeans are sidling away from a confrontation with Iran and the Brits went right into it this week. So there is still something special about this relationship and it ought not to be put at risk.
MR. COSTA: Does it continue, Phil – when you think about Boris Johnson, he may be the next prime minister, a Tory, to replace Theresa May. When you talk to people at the White House, what is their impression of Boris Johnson? Could there be a special relationship there between President Trump and him?
MR. RUCKER: There is certainly potential for there to be a warmer relationship between Trump and a Prime Minister Johnson than with Prime Minister May. For example, Trump and Johnson like each other. They’ve connected at sort of a human/personal level. But they’re also more in sync politically, and there’s a feeling that Boris Johnson could be very good for President Trump. It’s noteworthy, by the way, in this past week, with the British ambassador, that Theresa May came out and defended him very forcefully but Boris Johnson did not and was keeping his powder dry, which I think was a signal to Ambassador Darroch that he would not be welcome to serve in a Johnson administration.
MR. COSTA: And it comes to your point, Kim, maybe Boris Johnson looking ahead to Downing Street is saying I need to have President Trump on my side if I want to get that U.S.-U.K. trade deal.
MS. ATKINS: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right, and I think that might have been one thing that helped embolden President Trump to take as verbal, vocal a stance in reaction to this leaked cable as he did.
MR. COSTA: Just one other thing tonight. We said goodbye this week to Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who ran for president twice as a third-party candidate. In 1992 he faced President George H.W. Bush and then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, and his renegade, folksy approach, populist approach, got him 19 percent of the popular vote in that year. His self-financed campaign used television infomercials to broadcast his message. Perot was 89.
You covered Ross Perot.
MR. SEIB: He was an amazing, fun guy to cover, but you know, kind of crazy at the same time. But Ross Perot brought to the table everything Donald Trump capitalized on a generation later. He was a billionaire businessman, self-financed political candidate, a populist; said the system in Washington is broken, it’s in the hands of corrupt special interests that are hurting you, the average voter; and oh, by the way, these trade deals are terrible, they’re sucking jobs away from the U.S. Well, where did we hear that? We heard that from Donald Trump all through 2016. Well, I heard it first from Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996, and he was at the end of the day the most successful independent or third-party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt, and he had a huge impact.
MR. COSTA: Maybe he doesn’t get enough credit for being the precursor to Trump.
MR. RUCKER: He doesn’t. You know, the conventional wisdom about Trump is that the precursor was in the Tea Party movement, Sarah Palin and all of the conservative Republicans in that 2010 cycle. But Jerry’s exactly right, it dates back to Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan as well.
MR. SEIB: And the other thing he did was he – by doing that, he shook loose a kind of a radical center bloc of voters in the political system who were not that attached to either party, and after Perot were never attached to either political party. And every campaign since then has been an attempt by both parties to get at those exact same voters.
MR. COSTA: Phil brought up Pat Buchanan. That’s interesting, because in 1992 Pat Buchanan also ran – ran as a Republican against George H.W. Bush; anti-immigration message, populist message. We saw Ross Perot, businessman, outsider, but maybe that wasn’t enough if you’re President Trump thinking about a political profile. You also need that Pat Buchanan streak, anti-immigrant, coupled together, pretty potent, decades later.
MS. ATKINS: You do, you need all of those components. You also need a major party to get behind you, which I think is – which makes Ross Perot an interesting figure but one reason why, despite getting tens of millions of votes, he still wasn’t able to get anywhere. But it just shows that this populist streak is something that is still a part of the American political landscape, and it’s something that both sides are continuing to look for as they become more divided.
MR. COSTA: And Ross Perot also showed how a person can go on television – he would go on Larry King Live on CNN all the time to promote his national campaign. He was really the beginning of someone – and we saw it with President Trump. Did President Trump, you think, look at Ross Perot as a model, perhaps, just using TV as a way to get elected rather than having some kind of huge campaign or political party?
MS. REID: And now you have not only TV, you also have social media and Twitter. You know, one thing we have to admit about President Trump is the product is exactly as advertised. If the campaign was an infomercial, what you bought is exactly what you saw and what you were sold. So absolutely, it’s a very effective medium. Really now the president has other, similar, even more powerful mediums at his disposal.
MR. SEIB: Ross Perot would have been great on Twitter. (Laughter.)
MR. COSTA: He would have been great on Twitter.
MR. RUCKER: But you got to wonder if Ross Perot had a little bit more of the charisma and sort of celebrity appeal that Trump had, could he have gotten more than 19 percent? Probably.
MR. SEIB: Well, I’ll tell you, the difference is that Perot tried to do it by going around the two parties and Trump did it by going right through the heart of the Republican Party and taking it over. And in a two-party system, that’s how you have to do it.
MR. COSTA: That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch on the Washington Week website. While you’re online, check out the Washington Week-ly News Quiz. I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for joining us. See you next time.