Professor Christopher Sands, of Johns Hopkins University, says Canada’s wide-ranging effort to lobby U.S. lawmakers placed Trudeau in Trump’s crosshairs, particularly after the PM’s appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last week. Trudeau told NBC it was “insulting and unacceptable” to place tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel for security reasons, when Canada has been a steadfast friend and military ally to the U.S. for decades.
“It looked like Trudeau was messing in Trump’s back yard,” said Sands, the director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins.
Trump has become increasingly annoyed with the stream of U.S. lawmakers who have lobbied him in favour of Canada in recent months, Sands said. He says Canada’s strategy with Trump has been “brilliant” up to this point, with its focus on courting municipal, state and congressional leaders in order to push a data-focused, pro-free trade approach to NAFTA.
But Trump appears to have wised up to what he characterized in February as Canada’s “smooth” approach.
“We lose a lot with Canada. People don’t know it. Canada is very smooth,” Trump said at a meeting with state governors in February.
“They have you believe that it’s wonderful, and it is, for them.”
There was nothing smooth about Trump’s response to Trudeau over the weekend, following the PM’s presser at the G7 summit.
Trump blasted Trudeau in a series of tweets from Air Force One Saturday, shortly after departing the gathering of G7 leaders in Charlevoix, Que.
Trump described Trudeau as “meek and mild” and “dishonest and weak,” after the PM reiterated his stance on U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs in a news conference at the summit.
“Canadians are polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around,” Trudeau said, shortly after Trump’s departure from the G7 summit. Trudeau again said it was an “insult” that Trump would justify his steel tariffs as a national security issue, and confirmed that Canada will move forward with retaliatory tariffs on U.S. steel, aluminum and a number of other products.
It’s unclear what Trump thought was “false” about Trudeau’s comments, and as Trudeau’s office pointed out later, the PM didn’t say anything that he hadn’t already said last week.
Nevertheless, Trump aides Larry Kudlow and Peter Navarro joined the fray Sunday morning on the political talk show circuit, where they characterized Trudeau as dishonest and inexperienced.
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“He really kind of stabbed us in the back,” Kudlow, Trump’s director of the National Economic Council, told CNN. Kudlow also characterized Trudeau’s comments as a “amateurish” and “sophomoric.”
Trade adviser Peter Navarro went even further during an appearance on Fox News.
“There is a special place in hell for any leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door and that’s what bad-faith Justin Trudeau did with that stunt press conference,” Navarro said.
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Sands says these attacks on Trudeau and Canada are characteristic of Trump, who prefers a “maximum pressure for maximum results” approach to negotiation. However, he predicts Trump might have a harder time painting Canada as a threat than he would with an economic rival like China.
“When you start saying that Canada is a national security threat, you cross that line,” Sands said. “Canada is different.”
Trump’s attacks on Trudeau triggered a number of sympathetic messages from U.S. politicians.
However, Sands doesn’t expect Trump to back down or apologize for his remarks.
“This is Trump’s style,” he said, adding that the president is used to working with people he has previously insulted. His summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, for instance, comes after Trump mocked him as “Little Rocket Man” on several occasions.
“In Trump’s mind there’s very little price to be paid,” Sands said.
Sands says time may heal the rift with Trudeau, but the PM likely will not back down in the short term.
He says Trudeau can’t afford to look “super wimpy,” particularly after the recent victory of Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario, Canada’s most populated province.
If Trudeau gives Ford the room to criticize him as weak, it could cost the federal Liberals in the next election, Sands said.
“There’s no room to retreat.”
WATCH BELOW: Could Trudeau-Trump spat hurt Canada-U.S. relations for years to come?