Miriam Lord: Media goes wild for Trump, but the feeling is not mutual

President is quick to call time on photo call, but not before an awkward question

Taoiseach Enda Kenny presents a traditional gift of a bowl of shamrocks to U.S. President Donald Trump during a St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House in Washington.

 

For two comical, chaotic minutes, pandemonium reigned in the Oval Office.

It was not what we expected and yet . . .

And yet, when Donald met Enda, it gloriously turned out to be everything we expected.

“Unprecedented” gasped White House regulars in the immediate aftermath, aghast at the scenes they had just witnessed.

This was one ceremonial sit-down in the Oval Office which everyone wanted to see

“Elbows” shuddered a network cameraman. “My God, the elbows.”

So this was it. The reason why such a large media contingent had flown eight hours across the Atlantic, braved blizzards and freezing temperatures, run up big hotel bills, attended dull business events and listened to the Taoiseach deliver his well-polished son of the sainted shamrock routine along the east coast of America.

The reason why this particular Touraloora Tour was THE one to be on.

It was the Trump factor.

What’s he like in real life?

This was one ceremonial sit-down in the Oval Office which everyone wanted to see.

It was scheduled before lunch on Capitol Hill and after breakfast (and the first Danny Boy of the day) at the vice-president’s residence.

Word came through that all members of the Irish media would gain admittance to the Oval Office – quite a concession

If people weren’t excited enough after spending the early part of their morning in a small marquee pitched over the VP’s closed-over swimming pool, the Secret Service upped the hysteria quotient by rushing them from there to the White House in a full bells-and-whistles motorcade.

Word came through that all members of the Irish media would gain admittance to the Oval Office – quite a concession, given the 20-plus size of the travelling party and the relatively small confines of that office. In fact, earlier predictions that the Trump administration weren’t that interested in the annual St Patrick’s Day ritual proved very wide of the mark.

They laid on quite the welcome, and lavishly laid on Trump too.

Fireplace pleasantries

This year, the traditional arrangement of Potus and Taoiseach in front of the fireplace for photographic and exchange of pleasantries purposes was going to happen before their talk.

US president Donald Trump and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, with Paul Ryan, Peter King and Mike Pence outside the US Capitol after the Friends of Ireland lunch. Photograph: Olivier Douliery
US president Donald Trump and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, with Paul Ryan, Peter King and Mike Pence outside the US Capitol after the Friends of Ireland lunch. Photograph: Olivier Douliery

All done in a very calm, dignified and polite fashion, with everyone tip-toeing around the carpet and gold soft furnishings.

So the whole gang was frogmarched from the White House press centre around a short corridor to the walkway outside and through the French windows into the office.

The room was already packed. Rows of men in suits and more men in military dress with medals on their chests and people standing along the walls and the two sofas in the middle fully occupied and a phalanx of cameras and reporters behind them.

The Irish Times may have trod on a general’s foot

Irish advisers on one sofa. Mike Pence, the diminutive Wilbur Ross and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner on the American side.

The Donald and Enda sitting on chairs under the oil painting of George Washington with the bust of Martin Luther-King in background.

The visitors pushed in urgently. Some jostling ensured. The Irish Times may have trod on a general’s foot. A reporter was hit on the back of the head by a television camera and she fell on to the sofa nearly landing on the Trump son-in-law. (No sign of his wife, Ivanka.)

Had she landed on the diminutive Ross she would have killed him.

“You’re knocking the clock! You’re knocking the clock!” cried a Secret Service man as another Irish invader backed into a handsome timepiece.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief handler, walked through the mayhem, arms folded, a big smile on his face. He was heading towards the back of the room and some of his colleagues were taunting him over his Irish connections. Kellyanne Conway, media guru, would show up later at the Capitol Hill lunch.

Silent leaders

In the midst the madness sat a silent Donald Trump and a fairly silent Enda, who was desperately trying to make small talk. But Trump just sat there like a sulky child, leaning forward in his seat, hands steepled between his knees, looking into the distance. He seemed bored.

People were only inside the door for a minute or so when the US president called time. Frustrated by the lack of engagement, the Irish contingent began to shout questions.

Trump's hair is truly fascinating, blond and tufted along the parting like a Crolly doll

“Thank you press!” shouted an aide repeatedly.

Disappointingly, Trump didn’t look as orange as we expected. More a shade of weak Fanta on the face with a pale tinge of cold porridge around the eyes. His hair is truly fascinating, blond and tufted along the parting like a Crolly doll.

For what it’s worth, Enda has bigger hands.

Say something. What about Ireland?

“Love Ireland. I really love Ireland, yeah.”

Will he visit? (You had to be there. The tension was only massive.)

“I’ll be there, thank you.”

So Senan Molony from the Daily Mail went for broke. The Taoiseach called his policies dangerous and racist, would they be discussing this?

“Thank you, press!” shouted the aide with increasing desperation.

Not a word from Trump or Kenny. Trump leaned across to the Taoiseach, smiled and we just about heard him say very quietly, and with a conspiratorial, put-upon tone: “Is he one of yours?”

The Taoiseach smiled and they both stood. The Irish journalists being propelled out the door by the now very irate lady.

I’m surprised they even have TV in Ireland,' a cameraman was overhead snarking to a colleague

The men were shaking hands and Enda was vigorously patting Trump’s elbow.

The casually dressed Bannon padded around the room again, still smiling.

The local guys were already complaining in the White House press room. They’d never before seen such an unmerciful scramble. “I’m surprised they even have TV in Ireland,” a cameraman was overhead snarking to a colleague.

“What’ll it be like when Merkel comes?” was the worried reply.

Green fountain

The meeting didn’t last that long. The Taoiseach barrelled out afterwards to give a briefing. He didn’t appear to go in and give Trump the “senior hurling” treatment he predicted he would give Trump when they met.

Let me congratulate you, President Trump, on your election. You beat them all

By the afternoon, the White House fountain had turned green. On Capitol Hill at the Friends of Ireland lunch, House Speaker Paul Ryan couldn’t speak highly enough of the Taoiseach. The big story for those not at the lunch was the fact that Trump had turned up at all – he rarely sets foot in the place.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and US president Donald Trump face a scrum of Irish reporters in the White House, March 16th, 2017.  Photograph: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and US president Donald Trump face a scrum of Irish reporters in the White House, March 16th, 2017.  Photograph: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg

But he’s having a bad week of it. Going down in the approval ratings, fire-fighting on a number of fronts. Yesterday at least, Trump could take refuge in the green zone.

At the lunch, he toasted Ireland and Enda.

“Tee-shock. That’s my friend. My new friend” he said. And Fionnuala Kenny, “you know, you are something pretty special. We’re friends too, right?”

“Let me congratulate you, President Trump, on your election. You beat them all, whatever they say. Elections are tough going, I know. I’ve been through 20 of them myself,” gushed the Taoiseach, who ruminated on Ireland’s economic revival.

“I was accused of blocking up the Irish roads with people going to work . . . the challenge of success, I suppose.”

Then he made an emotional plea for Irish illegals working in America and spoke of those Irish who distinguished themselves in battle for their adopted country down through the years. “We’re gonna do something about that,” mouthed Trump to speaker Ryan.

Enda looked a very happy man after it. How will it play back home?