LONDON — President Trump arrived in London Monday night planning to tout a international coverage accomplishment his presidential marketing campaign desires him to run on: efficiently pressuring allies to pay extra towards the prices of operating NATO.
Less than 48 hours later — after he was placed on the defensive in entrance of the cameras after which was the topic of gossip at a non-public reception of world leaders, a second caught in a viral video — Mr. Trump canceled a deliberate information convention earlier than heading again to Washington sooner than deliberate.
[Politicians have a protracted historical past of being caught saying impolitic issues. Let’s roll the tape.]
The timing was not excellent. Mr. Trump had hoped the 70th anniversary celebration of NATO may present a flattering stage and a triumphant narrative, at the same time as Democrats on Capitol Hill on Wednesday trotted out sober authorized students to testify on the House Judiciary Committee’s first public impeachment listening to.
But as a substitute of making a cut up display, Mr. Trump failed to provide the statesmanlike narrative his marketing campaign had hoped for. The consequence was he appeared boxed in each at dwelling and overseas, in the end overshadowed by diplomatic dynamics that put him on his again foot.
“We’ll go directly back,” Mr. Trump instructed reporters earlier than a gathering on Wednesday with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, as he stunned his aides by abruptly scrapping plans for a proper information convention. “I think we’ve answered plenty of questions.”
Mr. Trump had, in truth, answered hours of scattershot questions from the information media by the point the gathering was over. But his quiet departure from Britain — with no splashy tabloid newspaper interview or a sit-down with a friendly television personality, or the set-piece final news conference he typically conducts when abroad — seemed to show an uncharacteristic admission of defeat.
“The NATO declaration and meeting outcome was successful but all the political fireworks around the leaders’ meeting was not,” said Heather A. Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There simply was nothing else to say other than to continue to further complicate NATO political dynamics.”
Mr. Trump arrived in London already something of a persona non grata. His political kindred spirit, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, had made it clear he had no interest in any show of support from a president who is seen by many of Mr. Johnson’s supporters as radioactive. He warned Mr. Trump to stay out of the British election, set for Dec. 12.
But the dim view that many European leaders themselves hold of Mr. Trump later burst into public view by accident. A video surfaced that showed grinning world leaders at a Buckingham Palace reception on Tuesday night, apparently commiserating in what they thought was a private conversation about the unmanageable behavior of the American president.
“He was late because he takes a 40-minute news conference at the top,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said to a small group that included President Emmanuel Macron of France, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, Mr. Johnson and Princess Anne.
In the video, which was posted online by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Mr. Trudeau does not mention Mr. Trump by name. But later in the day, he acknowledged he had been discussing the American president.
“You just watch his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” Mr. Trudeau said at another point in the video, expressing astonishment at Mr. Trump’s behavior. Mr. Macron is also seen participating animatedly in the conversation, but his comments cannot be heard. Mr. Johnson is seen smiling. Princess Anne looks on.
None of the world leaders seemed to realize the conversation was being recorded. But the video played directly into Mr. Trump’s own fixation with rival leaders laughing at him, or at the United States.
By Wednesday afternoon, some of the participants were seeking to distance themselves from the perceived criticism of Mr. Trump.
During a news conference, Mr. Johnson claimed ignorance of the widely circulated video.
“I don’t know where that has come from,” he said. “I really don’t know what is being referred to there.”
Mr. Johnson even managed to get through the entire news conference without uttering Mr. Trump’s name.
In the past, Mr. Trump has been loath to give up the spotlight, especially if he would be ceding it to a televised impeachment hearing unfolding on Capitol Hill.
“President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency,” Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard University, testified on Wednesday in Washington as Mr. Trump was wrapping up the last of his meetings with European leaders abroad.
Mr. Feldman was one of three constitutional scholars invited by Democrats to testify at the hearing. All three said Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine for political gain met the historical definition of impeachable offenses.
But Mr. Trump did not have a positive story to tell that would distract from the hearing. The narrative unfolding in London was of his soured relationships with foreign leaders.
“He’s two-faced,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Trudeau, when asked about the viral video. He attributed Mr. Trudeau’s apparent frustration to the American leader’s pressure campaign to increase Canada’s military spending to 2 percent of its economic output.
“He should be paying more than he’s paying,” Mr. Trump said. “I called him out on that, and I’m sure he wasn’t happy about it, but that’s the way it is.”
Mr. Trump was already on the defensive after a 45-minute joint appearance on Tuesday with Mr. Macron, who arrived at the celebration fresh off an explosive interview with The Economist magazine, in which he said the loss of American leadership in Europe has led to “the brain death of NATO.”
During their news conference, the French president aggressively challenged Mr. Trump’s vision for NATO and broached tensions over Turkey’s incursion into Northern Syria, which Mr. Trump had helped facilitate. For Mr. Trump, it was a rare face-to-face meeting with another world leader in which he was not driving the conversation.
Mr. Macron appeared to be relishing the role of the newly anointed disrupter-in-chief of NATO. But Mr. Trudeau tried to downplay the tension.
Although the Canadian prime minister admitted in a news conference that he was talking about Mr. Trump in the video, he said his “jaws drop” comment referred only to the surprise announcement that the upcoming Group of 7 summit would be held at Camp David, rather than as Mr. Trump had originally proposed at the Trump National Doral golf resort in Miami.
Mr. Trudeau added, “I have a very good relationship with President Trump and his team.”
Mr. Trump seemed pleased with his own retort. “That was funny when I said that guy was two-faced,” Mr. Trump said, in a second hot-mic moment of the two-day gathering — a private exchange with another attendee at a luncheon for countries that had met a military spending benchmark required by NATO.
Later in the day, the mood in a room where Mr. Trump was meeting with the Italian prime minister grew palpably tense as the president turned his focus to the Democratic-led impeachment effort back home, calling a report released by the House Intelligence Committee “a joke.”
He said it was a “disgrace” that the hearing was taking place “on a day like this where we’re in England and some of the most powerful countries in the world are having very important NATO meetings.”
After calling Democrats “unpatriotic,” Mr. Trump also questioned whether Democrats “loved our country.”
Mr. Trump has long bridled at the thought that other world leaders might poke fun at the United States. Part of his 2016 presidential campaign pitch to voters was that his election would change how America was viewed abroad.
“The world is laughing at us,” he said frequently during the campaign, criticizing the leadership of President Barack Obama.
In June 2017, when he announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, Mr. Trump said: “We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won’t be. They won’t be.”
But in 2018, laughter broke out at the United Nations General Assembly when Mr. Trump claimed that his administration had “accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”
The president insisted at the time that he was not the target, saying, “They weren’t laughing at me, they were laughing with me.”
Mr. Trump left NATO with another positive gloss on an embarrassing meeting. “We had a really good day and a good day yesterday,” he said.
Megan Specia contributed reporting from London.