It was just a passing reference at Monday's White House briefing: Press Secretary Sean Spicer mentioned that U.S. President Donald Trump had called to congratulate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his party's recent victory in state assembly elections.
After all, the Indian leader had plenty to celebrate. His Bharatiya Janata Party was able to form governments in four of the five states that went to the polls over the past two months, and Modi can indeed take credit for much of the success. The self-declared Hindu nationalist leader campaigned vigorously, particularly in India's biggest state of Uttar Pradesh, home to a whopping 200 million people, where his party won by a landslide.
The victory served as a nod of approval from the electorate for Modi's controversial cash swap measure. Coming a little more than halfway through Modi's five-year term, it all but ensures he'll run for a second term in 2019.
The world leader on the other end of the line congratulating Modi faces a more dubious future. Trump's failure to deliver on his top campaign pledge to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system shows it will not be easy for the Republican president to corral the feuding Congressional factions within his own party. Stocks briefly dipped as investors worried about Trump's ability to fulfill his next legislative promise of cutting taxes.
The U.S. president's midterm test will only come in November 2018, but he's sure to face a challenge. On Monday's phone call, he could have well asked Modi for advice, one nationalist to another, on the populist playbook to retain power.