It was probably inevitable that there would be a few eruptions on Donald Trump’s first foray abroad as president. After a serene visit to Saudi Arabia, he jetted off to Israel, apparently the first person to fly directly from the desert kingdom to Jerusalem, where he accomplished another first in visiting the Wailing Wall. But then came Europe, which Trump has long viewed with a good degree of suspicion. He delivered a stern rebuke to European leaders for failing to pony up more money for defense outlays, and refused to make the ritual public obeisance to NATO’s Article Five, which pledges mutual defense. In addition, Trump took a swipe at Germany, complaining that it was “very bad” and that it was time to stop it from selling “millions of automobiles” in the United States, a feat that would also involve shutting down a number of auto plants in America itself. As always, Trump was not slow to trumpet what he saw as his successes on this trip, tweeting on Friday, “Just arrived in Italy for the G7. Trip has been very successful. We made and saved the USA many billions of dollars and millions of jobs.”
Trump and his advisers are not wholly off base in looking askance at Germany’s trade policies—Berlin, as the White House’s Peter Navarro has previously observed to the Financial Times, has pursued a policy of using a weak euro to further expand its global reach, while essentially immiserating, to use Marx’s term, southern Europe. This cannot last. Germany, especially now that Emmanuel Macron is president of France, will have to adopt a more concessive policy, though it won’t come easily. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble recently declared that it is not “my task to be generous.” Let’s see if Trump can change that. At the G-7 summit in Sicily, Trump called for “reciprocal” trade relations and urged peer nations to step up their fight against terrorism.
Now the allies are once more fretting about Washington’s commitment to Europe. The question they should be asking themselves, however, also concerns Europe’s commitment to the United States. Issues like climate change are bound to further drive Europe from America. If Trump really were to abandon Europe, or to try and take a hard line against Iran, which the Europeans oppose, then it would not be beyond the realm of possibility that they would, in retaliation, not simply expand economic ties with China, but perhaps even pursue an opening with North Korea?
Nor is this all. The continental NATO types have other things to worry about. In Britain Jeremy Corbyn, no fan of NATO, a protectionist, a foe of the establishment as well as the media and a distinct foe of returning to a cold war with Russia, is nipping at Prime Minister Theresa May’s heels; new poll results suggest he is only 5 points behind May. Given that the British voted for Brexit, it’s hard not to wonder if another huge upset doesn’t loom, in which the British oust the Tories from Downing Street and take a flyer on the far-left Corbyn—who, like Trump, is on his third marriage to a foreign woman decades younger than him. Like Trump, Corbyn was supposed to have zero chance of winning. Watch this man.
The difficulty for Corbyn, as with Trump, will come if he’s elected. Former house speaker John Boehner, Politico reports, sums up Trump’s tenure so far as a “complete disaster.” Nevertheless, it is not clear that Trump is a political negative for Republicans. Quite the contrary. In Republican strongholds Trump continues to command strong support—witness the win of Republican Greg Gianforte in Montana’s special election. Neither the repeal of Obamacare nor the passage of tax reform seems likely at this point for a divided Republican party. Trump’s political enemies are determined to drive him from office, or at least ensure that he is dogged by multiple investigations for the duration of his first term. The Washington Post’s report that Jared Kushner is now under investigation by the FBI as part of the Russia investigation cuts very close to Trump. But there is no smoking gun, as Trump’s defenders note—at least so far, just a lot of accusations on the one hand, and hamfisted actions and defenses by Trump on the other.
Further damaging Trump are the mixed messages emanating from the White House on policy issues. The Washington Post notes today that budget chief Mick Mulvaney is claiming that big tax cuts will be paid for by closing down multifarious tax breaks. At the same time, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is offering a different explanation for how cuts will be paid for—growth will take care of everything. According to the Post, “Mulvaney and Mnuchin, two of the most influential economic advisers within the Trump administration, gave contradictory answers to the same question, on the same day, testifying before the same chamber of Congress.
“It fits a pattern of confusing and often opposing economic pronouncements emerging from a White House which has struggled to translate thematic campaign promises into concrete economic policies.”
One potent sign of Trump’s troubles may detected from a somewhat unexpected source: Breitbart’s numbers are plunging. According to Vanity Fair, Breitbart has gone from forty-fifth on Alexa.com to number 281: “ComScore estimated that Breitbart had nearly 23 million unique visitors during the month of November 2016, but only drew 10.7 million in April 2017, a 53 percent drop.” Apparently conservative media in general is slumping: National Review Online, Infowars.com, the Daily Caller and the Drudge Report are experiencing declines.
Perhaps the return of Hillary Clinton to the political stage, however, will be enough to reanimate conservatives. Speaking at her alma mater Wellesley College, the former secretary of state lashed into Trump, declaring that when she graduated in 1969, “We were furious about the past presidential election of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice.” She concluded, “It’s often during the darkest times where you can do the most good.” If one thing can revive Trump’s spirits, it’s probably the prospect of having to face down Clinton & Co. in the coming months.
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of the National Interest.
Image: President Donald Trump speaks during the 136th Coast Guard Academy commencement exercise. Wikimedia Commons/Public domain