Facing troubles at home, beleaguered presidents often look abroad for a reset. Richard Nixon dashed off to the Middle East to “wage peace” as his presidency wobbled during Watergate. Bill Clinton flew to Russia and northern Europe a couple of weeks after admitting his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
President Donald Trump has taken this trusty playbook for deflecting domestic scandal and turned it inside out: When traveling overseas, Trump makes clear that he’d just as soon cannonball right back into the morass he left behind.
Next week is Trump’s latest chance to ditch Chuck and Nancy, peel himself away from cable television, and present himself as a head of state operating on a bigger stage. Queen Elizabeth II will host him at a state banquet in Buckingham Palace on Monday, making him just the third U.S. president to be so honored (Barack Obama and George W. Bush being the others). Over the following days, he’ll mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day at ceremonies in Britain and France, and hold face-to-face meetings with outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
With congressional Democrats mulling impeachment, the Europe trip should be a welcome reprieve. What’s different in the Trump era is that the president doesn’t necessarily want one. Seldom do Trump trips go smoothly. In past visits to Europe, he’s ignited international incidents of varying degrees, insulting his hosts or threatening to unravel historic alliances. But, always, his mind seems elsewhere.