President Donald Trump just called London Mayor Sadiq Khan a “stone cold loser” — escalating his feud with the British politician and beginning his UK visit in combative style.
If anyone feared Trump would act undiplomatically during his British tour, those worries were realized even before he got off the plane.
On June 1, Khan, a member of the left-wing Labour Party, wrote an op-ed for Britain’s Guardian newspaper in which he effectively called Trump a modern-day authoritarian.
“President Donald Trump is just one of the most egregious examples of a growing global threat,” Khan wrote, saying that Trump and some other European leaders “are using the same divisive tropes of the fascists of the 20th century.”
Branding Trump as an authoritarian just two days before he was set to arrive was no doubt a truthful articulation of how Khan feels — but it was also surely meant to insult and provoke the president into saying something brash.
Well, it worked.
Just hours before landing in London on Monday morning, Trump tweeted his own unflattering commentary about Khan, saying he “has been foolishly ‘nasty’ to the visiting President of the United States” and calling Khan “a stone cold loser who should focus on crime in London, not me.”
….Kahn reminds me very much of our very dumb and incompetent Mayor of NYC, de Blasio, who has also done a terrible job – only half his height. In any event, I look forward to being a great friend to the United Kingdom, and am looking very much forward to my visit. Landing now!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 3, 2019
That’s quite a way to kick off Trump’s three-day visit to the UK. He plans to meet with the queen and members of the royal family on Monday, sit down with outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday, and attend a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day on Wednesday. Also before he arrived, Trump broke convention by weighing in on British politics, saying the UK should walk away from a Brexit deal.
A spokesperson for Khan responded to Trump’s broadside. “This is much more serious than childish insults which should be beneath the president of the United States,” the spokesperson said. “Sadiq is representing the progressive values of London and our country” while Trump and others are “putting at risk the basic values that have defined our liberal democracies for more than 70 years.”
The verbal scuffle has already caused a partisan rift in the UK. For example, conservative Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told Sky News that Khan’s initial comments were “totally inappropriate,” while Yvette Cooper, a member of the mayor’s left-wing party in Parliament, tweeted that it “Doesn’t help Britain to be lavishing pomp on a President so determined to be divisive, childish & destructive.”
But Trump’s tweets weren’t actually that surprising. In fact, Trump and Khan have had a years-long feud that was all but certain to blow up as the president approached Britain.
And sure enough, it did.
Trump and Khan’s longstanding feud, briefly explained
Trump is famous for letting insults get under his skin and for fighting back against taunts, even if it makes him look unpresidential. Just this month, for example, Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traded barbs for roughly 29 hours; Trump eventually called the Democratic leader “crazy.”
But his war of words with Khan, which the mayor started, ranks as one of his top battles.
In 2016, Khan called Trump’s then-new Muslim ban proposal “ignorant,” leading the president to challenge the mayor to an IQ test. Later that year, Khan, who is Muslim, gave a speech at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in which he assailed the Muslim ban idea and openly backed Hillary Clinton for president. “I think the message it sends when the most powerful politician in the world is a woman is phenomenal, and I hope she wins,” Khan said.
But the spat kicked into high gear after a June 2017 terror attack in London that killed seven people and injured nearly 50 more.
“We will never let them win, nor cower in fear,” Khan said in a TV appearance the morning after the van attack and subsequent stabbings. “Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days. There’s no reason to be alarmed.”
That response didn’t sit well with Trump.
At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is “no reason to be alarmed!”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2017
Trump took Khan out of context: The mayor was clearly saying there was no reason to be alarmed by the increased police presence, not by terrorism in general. More noteworthy, though, was that Trump opted to criticize a reeling city’s mayor instead of at least offering words of support.
Yet Khan didn’t initially respond directly, allowing a spokesperson to bash Trump in a statement to the press: The mayor “has more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump’s ill-informed tweet that deliberately takes out of context his remarks,” the spokesperson said.
Trump couldn’t let that slight go, choosing to berate Khan again.
Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his “no reason to be alarmed” statement. MSM is working hard to sell it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2017
It’s worth noting that experts say openly fighting with Trump may help boost Khan’s popularity. After all, around 71 percent of Londoners think Trump is a bad American president. The mayor, then, may enjoy purposely egging on Trump, and it’s possible Khan wrote his Saturday op-ed to get a rise out of the president.
Still, Trump didn’t have to respond to Khan’s latest provocation. Yet he did — and his important British trip is already worse off for it.