Nothing boxes in Trump. He will keep defending the Saudi prince as he has his putative paramour Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin, and virtually every other despot on the planet who has crossed his path. Trump defends authoritarian leaders no matter what they do because he aspires to be one (and sometimes succeeds at it). While a few Republican senators in Washington have, for the moment, decried his effort to cover for the Saudis — notably Lindsey Graham — you’ll notice that many others, starting with Mitch McConnell, have ducked the issue. There’s an election going on, and they’d rather talk about the evils of the Democrats than a butcher in the Middle East and Jared Kushner’s complicity with him.
A common narrative by the left and some neocons is that Trump is cozy with dictators and autocrats. However, the evidence shows otherwise. Trump will capriciously and strategically cut ties when press and sentiment sours.
For example, Trump launched airstrikes on Syria in 2017 (which drew a lot of criticism from the alt-right, which tends to be anti-war) and again in 2018, due to the fear of bad press from Trump ‘doing nothing’ in the face of supposed human rights abuses and chemical attacks. Trump knows that taking a hard stand against universally disliked targets will generate positive press and boost approval ratings, even if it makes a small number of supporters (such as the alt-right) upset.
As another example of Trump doing a 180, Trump is often accused by the left, again, of being too cozy with Putin and Russia, but in August Trump imposed sanctions on Russia for Skripal poisoning. Way to say ‘thanks’ for rigging the election in your favor. You can see how the left’s narrative falls flat on its face.
And around the same time, Trump imposed harsh sanctions on Turkey. In early 2017, Trump and Erdogan seemed close, and, like Putin, they met in person, but when press soured due to Pastor Andrew Brunson’s imprisonment, but also to gin-up easy public support against a universally disliked target (like Syria, no one likes Turkey that much), Trump again did a 180.
The media is worried about Chinese president Xi Jinping trying to concentrate/consolidate power, yet Trump has imposed tariffs on China, as further evidence of Trump being a bulwark against the ambitions of autocrats, especially when such ambitions cross paths with America’s geopolitical and economic interests. And Trump’s tough talk on China plays into voters general distrust and suspicions of China, which is good for optics and rallying the ‘base’.
A year after his ‘glowing orb’ meeting in 2017 with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, Trump yet again is doing a 180 by threatening sanctions due to the negative press over the killing of Khashoggi, and also that Saudi Arabia is yet another universally disliked target.
You can be sure that if Kim Jong-un steps out of line, Trump will absolutely cut-off that friendship too.