Trump allies encourage Mar-a-Lago visits with foreign leaders months before election


Former President Donald Trump’s allies have been encouraging foreign countries to send diplomats and official emissaries to Mar-a-Lago to reconnect ahead of another potential Trump stint in the White House, sources with direct knowledge of the meetings confirmed to CBS News. 

Trump advisers and allies believe he’ll be able to capitalize on the decline in Americans’ approval of President Joe Biden’s foreign policy decisions. An April CBS News poll found that only 33% of Americans approve of Mr.  Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict, down from 44% in October. 

It is rare for foreign ambassadors and ministers to meet with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee half a year before the presidential election and suggests that they’re laying the groundwork for another Trump administration. 

“The biggest handle Biden had on Trump was that this guy is unpredictable, especially on the world stage,” said Terry Sullivan, who ran Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “When you take your opponent’s strength and your personal weakness and turn them on their head, that’s a big move.”

The 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Sen. Mitt Romney, implemented a similar strategy of meeting foreign leaders shortly before he won the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. On a trip to London for a fundraiser that year, Romney met with several British leaders. At the time, CBS News chief political analyst John Dickerson told “CBS This Morning” that Romney’s campaign had calibrated his talking points about the meetings to project a presidential aura.

“It’s something every campaign does to some degree if they can get away with it and show they have gravitas and can handle major foreign policy situations,” said Sullivan, who also worked on Romney’s earlier presidential bid in 2008 and is now a CBS News contributor. 

Foreign leaders have made stops at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Florida club, too. The former president recently hosted British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, whose spokesperson said it was “standard practice for ministers to meet with opposition candidates as part of their routine international engagement.” The two spoke about the war in Ukraine, NATO spending and upcoming elections, according to the Trump campaign. 

But unlike recent presidential nominees, Trump has also hosted controversial foreign leaders. The willingness by some Trump advisers to contact these foreign governments reflects the approach another Trump administration could take on foreign policy. 

Last month, the former president hosted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the closest European Union ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, at Mar-a-Lago. The two also discussed the war in Ukraine, Orban later told state media. 

Former President Donald Trump with Hungarian President Viktor Orbán. 

Screenshot from Orbán Facebook video

Mr. Biden reacted swiftly, criticizing the rendezvous on the day it took place.

“You know who he’s meeting with today down at Mar-a-Lago? Orbán of Hungary, who stated flatly he doesn’t think democracy works. He’s looking for dictatorship,” Mr. Biden said at a rally near Philadelphia. “That’s who he’s meeting with.”

Trump also spoke recently with Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman, The New York Times reported, who was found by U.S. intelligence to have signed off on killing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” a longtime U.S. resident and Washington Post journalist. 

The former president has also spoken with government officials from other Western countries, including Finland last year, a source familiar with the conversations told CBS News.

The outreach by Trump’s allies to foreign dignitaries was first reported by Politico.

In a CBS News national poll in March, Trump was leading Mr. Biden, as voters remembered the economy under Trump as being better than it is under the president. The Biden campaign and Democratic National Committee are trying to close the gap by exploiting their considerable financial advantage over the Trump campaign and Republican Party, placing multimillion-dollar ad buys in key battleground states.



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