For all of President Donald Trump's obvious affection for nationalist autocrats, the first leader he formally welcomed to Washington, on Monday ahead of Tuesday night's state dinner, was the leader of the French Republic, the free and fairly elected internationalist Emmanuel Macron.
Trump and Macron, who was elected in May 2017, share one of the most examined relationships in world politics. At a glance, they would appear to have little in common, ideologically or temperamentally. But over the course of nearly a year on the same global stage, the pair have emerged as remarkably close personal allies.
Unlike with the prospect of Brexit, another European thunderclap, Trump took no early liking to Macron's candidacy, instead indicating his preference for the French centrist's election runoff opponent, far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen. But after a few tense meetings, marked in public by their bizarrely protracted -- and definitely "not innocent" -- handshake in Brussels, Macron seems to have secured what his European counterparts could not: a personal bond with the US President.
"There's a strong rapport on the anti-jihadist war and that will continue because France, of course, is at the core of this, both on its territory and in the Middle East," said Philippe Le Corre, a former French government official who's now a senior fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School. "And Trump -- to him, it's very important. He thinks there are terrorists everywhere, even with relatively few attacks in the US compared to Europe."
But this isn't simply a marriage of mutual interests. Macron and Trump are at odds over most of the most pressing issues they are expected to discuss during the visit. For the next few days, Macron is expected to lobby Trump to, among other things, reverse his expected course and abide by the Iran nuclear deal, maintain the US presence in Syria, tamp down tariff threats and -- albeit a long shot -- re-enter the Paris climate agreement.
"Macron doesn't come, of course, as the 'president of Europe,' but if you look around in the EU and ask people in different countries -- and I travel in Europe quite a bit -- people don't see anybody else," Le Corre said. "But it's not easy to deal with Trump and already he's the guy who speaks to Trump the most, so that's an achievement. He does much better than (British Prime Minister) Theresa May and (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel."
As a first move in securing that position, or at least the perception, Macron on Sunday touted his and Trump's "very special relationship" and "shared values" on Fox News, in his only American television appearance ahead of the trip.
"I think President Trump's election was unexpected in your country, and probably my election was unexpected in my country," Macron told host Chris Wallace. "And we are not part of the classical political system."
These were words after Trump's heart -- and ego. But that doesn't mean there isn't some truth in them. Both Macron and Trump were elected, in part, as the result of generational rejections of a partisan status quo. They are, similarly, political and personal departures from their predecessors and neither, two years ago, would have made anyone's short list for their current jobs.
"Nobody would have gambled that a man with such a thin political r-sum- would have made it in less than two years, (defeating) a former prime minister and other luminaries in the French election," Le Corre said of Macron. "His movement, and they keep saying it's a movement and not a political party, it allows him to introduce himself as a maverick."
Swap in a couple of Americanized nouns and he could have been describing Trump. Meanwhile, unrest in France might actually exceed what we've seen in the US during the Trump era. Macron's push for sweeping economic reforms, which would slash the French social safety net, has touched off protests and strikes across the country.
During a particularly antagonistic television interview last week, recounted here in excruciating detail by The New York Times, Macron offered an unusual defense.
"The discontent of the railway workers," he snapped, "has nothing to do with the discontent in the hospitals!"
Trump doesn't take questions in that fashion (on the spot, from reporters), though he too has a way of meeting frustration with absurd declarations. They also share a taste for a certain kind of patriotic demonstration. Trump memorably observed the Bastille Day military parade in Paris last July with something between awe and rank jealousy.
The US, France and the United Kingdom, meanwhile, launched joint airstrikes on Syria 10 days ago after reports that the Assad regime had again used chemical weapons on its own people. But the Trump-Macron attachment clearly extends beyond a shared interest in multilateral military action.
It more clearly now resembles that of a corporate executive -- Macron, the former investment banker -- and his most treasured client, Trump, the one whose business, though always in doubt, could make him indispensable to Macron's increasingly impatient employers -- the French public -- even as his domestic agenda wobbles.
For Trump, the calculus would seem to be much simpler.
Macron, in words and with his presence, flatters the President, who's known to hold a special place for those who "look the part." If nothing else, and as detailed in the new book of his old boss, former President Fran-ois Hollande, Macron has a unique skill for courting power -- then grabbing it for himself.
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