Before heading to the first of a series of D-day commemorations on Wednesday, President Trump attempted to use a television interview with a friendly journalist to clean up a couple of messes he had made, only to create new controversy later by wading into the touchy issue of Ireland’s border with the United Kingdom.
In an interview with Piers Morgan, the British journalist and longtime Trump friend, the president partially walked back his criticism of the American-born Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, and attempted to get out of a jam involving U.S.-British trade. He also continued to focus on domestic opponents, tweeting insults at the Senate’s Democratic leader and Bette Midler, the singer/actress and frequent Trump critic.
Trump’s main public event of the day came in Portsmouth, where world leaders gathered at a British naval base to mark the eve of the 75th anniversary of D-day with a televised ceremony that included firsthand accounts of the invasion, artistic performances and other reflections.
Trump, who sat beside Queen Elizabeth II, took the stage only briefly to read an excerpt from a prayer that President Franklin D. Roosevelt read to the nation on the radio on the eve of the D-day operation. Following the ceremony, he met briefly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Then, upon arrival in Ireland, he met with Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach or prime minister, and casually seemed to suggest that Brexit, which has caused deep political pain in Britain, could be eased by building a border wall to separate Ireland from Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.
“I think it will all work out very well, and also for you with your wall, your border,” Trump said. “I mean, we have a border situation in the United States, and you have one over here. But I hear it's going to work out very well here.”
British and Irish political leaders have spent the last three years desperately trying to come up with ways for Britain to exit the European Union while avoiding precisely that outcome. They fear that a return to a hard border between the two parts of Ireland could restart the violence that took thousands of lives during the so-called Troubles that lasted from the 1960s through 1998.
Varadkar, who looked uncomfortable as Trump spoke, replied: “I think one thing we want to avoid, of course, is a wall or border between us.”
Trump responded by tempering his initial comments.
“I think you do, I think you do,” he said. “The way it works now is good, you want to try and to keep it that way. I know that's a big point of contention with respect to Brexit.”
Asked if he thought Brexit would be bad for Ireland, Trump said, “I think it should be good. The big thing is going to be your border, and hopefully that's going to work out, and I think it will work out.”
The afternoon exchange came just before Trump took a helicopter to retire for the evening at his golf resort at Doonbeg on Ireland’s western coast — putting a bookend on a day that began in London with early morning Twitter attacks and a splashy television interview.
In the interview with Morgan, the host of “Good Morning Britain,” that was conducted Tuesday and aired across Britain on Wednesday morning, Trump walked back several erroneous and controversial comments that have hung over his otherwise positive five-day visit to Europe.
The 54-year old Morgan has been a friend of the president since his appearances on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” show in 2008, which played a major role in boosting his career.
Trump told Morgan that he did not mean to insult Markle when he referred to her in another interview days ago as “nasty.” The comment cast a pall over Trump’s visit and generated immense media coverage in the U.S. and Britain, where Markle, the wife of Prince Harry, draws huge amounts of attention.
Trump had first tried to deny ever having made the remark, tweeting on Sunday that “I never called Meghan Markle ‘nasty.’ Made up by the Fake News Media.” Unfortunately for that approach, the British tabloid the Sun, which conducted the interview, had a recording of him, which it released.
With Morgan, Trump tried a different tack, saying that he was speaking specifically about a comment Markle made about him during the 2016 campaign, not about her as an individual.
“She was nasty to me,” he said. “And that’s OK for her to be nasty, it’s not good for me to be nasty to her, and I wasn’t.”
Morgan also helped Trump step out of another mess involving whether a future trade deal between the U.S. and Britain would allow American companies access to the U.K.’s National Health Service.
“I don’t see it being on the table,” Trump said, reversing what he had said at a news conference Tuesday with Prime Minister Theresa May where he seemed not to understand the question.
“Somebody asked me a question today, and I say everything is up for negotiation, because everything is,” he continued. “But I don’t see that as being, that’s something that I would not consider part of trade. That’s not trade.”
The flap over the health service was a reminder that despite Trump’s breezy assertion that a trade deal between Britain and the U.S. could be negotiated in a matter of weeks, such agreements are never easy.
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Trump attacked Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) as “a creep.” Schumer, a frequent sparring partner, had attracted Trump’s ire for predicting that the president would back down on his threat to impose escalating tariffs on Mexico.
Hours later, presumably after catching a few hours of sleep, Trump also went after the leading Democratic presidential hopeful, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“His other problem is that he is drawing flies, not people, to his Rallies. Nobody is showing up, I mean nobody. You can’t win without people!” Trump wrote.
The president is notoriously sensitive about crowd sizes, sometimes exaggerating the size of his own. On Wednesday, he was doing the opposite, claiming — falsely — that protests, which drew tens of thousands of people into the London streets around Parliament on Tuesday, were a fabrication of a biased media.
“I kept hearing that there would be ‘massive’ rallies against me in the UK, but it was quite the opposite,” he wrote. “The big crowds, which the Corrupt Media hates to show, were those that gathered in support of the USA and me. They were big & enthusiastic as opposed to the organized flops!”
The anti-Trump demonstrations this week were smaller than the huge gatherings that protested his previous visit to London, but they greatly outnumbered any pro-Trump crowds in the city. Trump is overwhelmingly unpopular in Britain in general, and London in particular.
How much of the protests Trump’s staff allowed him to see is unknown. He traveled even short distances in London by helicopter and had little interaction with Britons other than the royal family and government officials. White House officials have seldom scheduled Trump to visit any major cities, in the U.S. or elsewhere, shielding him from places where he might encounter opposition crowds.
Trump also renewed his feud with Midler.
The actress and frequent critic of the president had tweeted a quote wrongly attributed to him, which she later deleted. Trump went on the attack.
“Washed up psycho @BetteMidler was forced to apologize for a statement she attributed to me that turned out to be totally fabricated by her in order to make ‘your great president’ look really bad,” Trump tweeted, around 1 a.m. local time.. “She got caught, just like the Fake News Media gets caught. A sick scammer!”