Trudeau’s reelection bid faces the Trump test

The Canadian leader was so concerned about Trump he secretly practiced his handshake before their first meeting.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agonized overwhat might seem like an inconsequential detail before his first meeting with President Donald Trump: how to shake hands.

During a February 2017 flight to Washington to meet the president, Trudeau was fixated with being viewed as standing his ground without antagonizing Trump.

So the prime minister spent part of the flight practicing his handshake with senior aides.

The combination shoulder grip-handshake he settled on didn’t just avoid the cringe-inducing exchange Japan’s Shinzo Abe endured a few days earlier. It also offered a snapshot of Trudeau’s approach to Trump: to seek contrast, not confrontation, and to be viewed as standing his ground, politely, with a dominant alpha male American leader.

Now Trudeau will test his relationship with Trump as he launches an unexpectedly difficult Canadian reelection campaign.

Ahead of Trudeau’s tougher-than-expected fall campaign, he has hinted that he intends to present his Liberal party as an antidote to Trump. Trump is a perfect political punching bag for a center-left candidate stumping in Canada. He’s unpopular and some of his policies offend the most sacred tenets of Canadianliberalism.

But Trudeau can’t go too far: Trashing Trump directly carries major risks, because the president holds levers that can pulverize the Canadian economy and either has pulled those levers or threatened to. The northern neighbor already faces threats from the president on a trade dealtariffs and Cuba sanctions.

The dilemma for Trudeau shows just how prominent Trump is on the world stage both substantively and psychologically — nearly every world leader facing an election has to send a message to their country about how they will deal with Trump.

For Trudeau, the relationship has remained functional despite the friction.