David Cameron Reaches Out to Trump, Taking a Risk on His U.S. Trip

When Britain’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, went to Washington on Tuesday, he made all the usual stops, from the State Department to Capitol Hill. But it was his pilgrimage to Palm Beach, Fla., where he met former President Donald J. Trump for dinner on Monday evening at Mar-a-Lago, that grabbed most of the attention.

Mr. Cameron is the first top British government official to meet with Mr. Trump since he left the White House. His visit — ostensibly to cajole Mr. Trump into backing additional American military aid to Ukraine — attests to Mr. Trump’s influence over a far-right faction of House Republicans who have been holding up a vote.

It also underscores how the electoral calendar is affecting political dynamics on both sides of the Atlantic. Mr. Cameron, a onetime prime minister, has emerged as almost a shadow British leader abroad, standing in for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is busy with a looming general election at home.

In traveling to meet Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mr. Cameron was reaching out to a once, and potentially future, American president — one whose jaundiced views on Ukraine are seen as the biggest hurdle to the continuation of much-needed American aid for the Ukrainian military.

“We had a good meeting,” Mr. Cameron said of Mr. Trump, while standing alongside Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken after their own session at the State Department on Tuesday. “It was a private meeting.”

Mr. Cameron said he and Mr. Trump discussed Ukraine, the Israel-Gaza conflict and other geopolitical issues, but he declined to say whether he had made any headway on convincing Mr. Trump to provide additional aid to Ukraine. He said he delivered the same message he gives to other American leaders: “The best thing we can do this year is to keep the Ukrainians in this fight.”

Mr. Trump has not commented on the dinner, which included Britain’s ambassador to Washington, Karen Pierce. His campaign issued a statement saying they discussed “the need for NATO countries to meet their defense spending requirements and ending the killing in Ukraine.” They also shared their “mutual admiration for the late Queen Elizabeth II.”

So far, Mr. Cameron’s lobbying campaign in Washington has been met with decidedly mixed results. While he said he looked forward to meetings with Republicans in the House and Senate on Tuesday and Wednesday, he was not scheduled to meet with Speaker Mike Johnson, the Louisiana Republican who is the pivotal figure in scheduling a House vote on military aid to Ukraine.

The two men last met in December, when Mr. Cameron also saw Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the far-right Georgia Republican who stridently opposes further aid. Two months later, she lashed out at Mr. Cameron, saying he had accused Republicans of appeasing President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

“David Cameron needs to worry about his own country,” Ms. Taylor Greene said, adding an epithet.

At his news conference with Mr. Blinken, Mr. Cameron acknowledged that he viewed his visits to Capitol Hill with “great trepidation,” noting that, “It’s not for foreign politicians to tell legislators in another country what to do.”

Mr. Cameron played down the Mar-a-Lago meeting, saying it was routine for senior British and American officials to meet opposition candidates. As prime minister, he noted, he met with the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, when he came to London on a fund-raising trip. Mr. Blinken met the Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, at a security conference in Munich.

Still, there is little routine about meeting a former president at the Palm Beach estate that served as his winter White House and is still his political bastion. Mr. Trump used Mar-a-Lago for summit meetings with foreign leaders like President Xi Jinping of China. More recently, he welcomed a like-minded leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary.

Among Republicans, a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago has at times been an exercise in political validation. Kevin McCarthy, the former House speaker, went there three weeks after the attack on the Capitol in January 2021, in a fruitless bid to win Mr. Trump’s favor. Allies like Kristi Noem, the South Dakota governor, and Kari Lake, the Arizona TV anchor-turned-politician, are regular visitors.

Diplomats in Britain said Mr. Cameron’s visit was a risk, but characteristic of how he has approached his job from the start. On issues from Ukraine to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, he has pushed the envelope in his public statements. With Britain’s Conservative government lagging Labour by double digits in the polls and facing voters in the fall, some said Mr. Cameron had little to lose.

“Flattering Trump about his importance and significance on this issue is an astute move on Cameron’s part,” said Simon Fraser, a former head of Britain’s Foreign Office. “Let’s see whether it delivers.”

Mr. Fraser predicted that Mr. Cameron’s visit would get a mixed reception in Britain: applauded by those who view it primarily through a foreign-policy lens; criticized by those, he said, “who can’t stand Trump.” But he said Mr. Cameron’s entree to Mr. Trump spoke to his network of global contacts, a legacy of his time as prime minister.

“He’s bringing more reach and energy and impact to British foreign policy,” Mr. Fraser said.

Leslie Vinjamuri, the director of the U.S. and Americas program at Chatham House, the British research institution, said, “It may not feel tasteful, but it’s shrewd, pragmatic politics of the kind Britain especially has historically been so good at, and probably of the kind that will work best with Trump.”

“There is a lot at stake in U.S. defense of Ukraine and Europe’s security,” she added, “and frankly, I think the effort to influence the U.S. may be wiser and more effective than the aspiration to Trump-proof Europe.”

Mr. Cameron has had a bumpy history with Mr. Trump. In 2016, as prime minister, he condemned Mr. Trump’s campaign proposal to place a temporary ban on allowing Muslims to enter the United States.

Asked in Parliament whether Mr. Trump should be banned from Britain, Mr. Cameron demurred but said, “His remarks are divisive, stupid and wrong, and I think if he came to visit our country, I think he’d unite us all against him.”

Even Mr. Cameron’s welcoming of Mr. Romney in 2012 had its awkward moments. Mr. Romney, who had organized the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, questioned whether London was ready to play host to the summer games, citing reports about security concerns.

“We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world,” Mr. Cameron shot back. “Of course, it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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