When French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife arrived in Washington Monday for a lavish, three-day state visit, political observers across the world were watching to see signs of the much acclaimed “bromance” between him and U.S. President Donald Trump.
The two men did not disappoint.
Their long handshakes and embraces that were seen during Trump’s Paris trip last July were repeated at the White House Tuesday. At one point, the U.S. president brushed a speck off Macron’s suit jacket before the two sat down in front of reporters in the Oval Office. Macron reacted with a good-natured smile.
“We do have a very special relationship. In fact, I’ll get that little piece of dandruff off; you have a little piece. We have to make him perfect. He is perfect,” Trump remarked.
Christopher Ulrich of the Body Language Institute says these type of exchanges are telling.
“It’s a relationship marked by also a power balance,” Ulrich noted. “The two of them go back and forth in trying to earn dominance over the other person. We see it in the 18-second handshakes that we have seen before.”
George Washington University political historian Matt Dallek notes Trump and Macron may genuinely be fond of each other, but each leader has his own interests in mind.
“You know for Trump, the thing it does is enhance his stature, gives him a sense that you know, he can be on the world stage with this sort of young and dashing, relatively new leader of France,” he said.
Dallek said Trump’s friendship with Macron is even more notable because the U.S. president does seem to have such close ties with other world leaders.
“I think it undercuts the critics who say ‘oh you know he is rejected, repudiated [by] all of America’s allies, you know that he’s cozying up solely to dictators,” Dallek noted.
Observers will watch closely to see whether this type of personal chemistry is replicated when German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Washington Friday for a one-day meeting with Trump. The coolness between Trump and Merkel during her visit last March raised eyebrows, with the two sitting in the Oval Office together for several awkward seconds, not shaking hands.
“Ms. Merkel is turning to him and saying, ‘Donald, do you want to shake hands?’ And he doesn’t seem to hear it. He seems very adamant in that moment. And we don’t know if he meant to do it,” Ulrich said. “It has been referred to as the cold shoulder.”
Dallek says the frostiness between Merkel and Trump is likely due to their stark ideological differences.
“She embodies ideas such as tolerance for refugees, the idea of more open borders, free trade, the European Union, the importance of NATO, the trans-Atlantic alliance, all of these things Merkel is defending and has come to embody.”
He said that contrasts with Trump’s “America First” policy on securing U.S. borders, drastically reducing the number of refugees admitted, and imposing tariffs on imports.
Experts point out that Macron and Trump have many of the same major ideological differences as Trump and Merkel do, but say Macron has been adept at bonding with Trump by inviting him to France for a state visit and military parade last July.
Despite their personal relationships, analysts say it is not clear whether Macron or Merkel, with their different styles, will be able to convince Trump to change his mind on pressing issues for the U.S. and the European Union, such as trade policy, climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.