President Donald Trump’s trip to Europe was a victory for his nationalist advisers over their so-called globalist rivals as the two camps gird for more showdowns this summer.
In Warsaw, Trump delivered a starkly nationalist speech lauding the right-wing Polish government’s defense of “civilization” from foes like refugees and European Union bureaucrats. At the G-20 summit in Germany, Trump stuck to his dissent from a global climate change consensus, befriended Russian President Vladimir Putin and weighed potential new steel tariffs that a top European Union official angrily branded “protectionist.”
In each instance, the influence of nationalist White House advisers, like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller — along with Trump’s own raw instincts — were on clear display. And all represent setbacks for the likes of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, who are trying to steer Trump’s policies in a more conventional direction.
“Overall the trip embraced nationalism much more than internationalism,” said Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “There was further rejection of free trade, nothing on climate change, disrespect of free media, and a pro forma pushback versus Russian interference in our politics.”
The internal struggle will continue to unfold this month, as Trump makes an expected decision on steel tariffs and returns to Europe next weekend to for a visit with French President Emmanuel Macron, who recently defeated a nationalist candidate Trump had subtly supported.
Emboldening the nationalists in the White House will be the way Trump’s stops in Poland and Germany resonated with his conservative supporters.
“Mr. Trump finally offered the core of what could become a governing philosophy,” gushed the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page about Trump’s Warsaw speech, which celebrated tight borders and strong national and cultural identity. “It is a determined and affirmative defense of the Western tradition.”
The Journal happily noted that Trump had “shocked Washington.”
Nor did Trump backers mind the exasperation of G-20 leaders over his departure from their otherwise unanimous support for the Paris climate accords and free trade expansion.
“Trump Versus the Rest,” declared an approving headline on Breitbart News, the conservative, pro-nationalist outlet once run by Bannon.
Mainstream foreign policy experts take a dimmer view, warning that Trump is dangerously isolating the U.S. — even as he empowers Putin, who delights in the friction between Trump and America’s European allies on issues like trade, the EU and NATO.
Trump believes that the U.S. “will be stronger going it alone,” said Stephen Sestanovich, a former U.S. ambassador and State Department official now at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“Eventually it will be clear that Trump isn’t making America great again, but making it weaker, more isolated, less able to deal effectively with international challenges, a less necessary part of other countries’ calculations,” Sestanovich added. “For Putin, an American president who diminishes the power of the U.S. in this way is a geopolitical bonanza.”
Many of Trump’s top economic and foreign policy advisers agree that America’s traditional alliances are critical, and that restricting trade is a dangerous game. They include McMaster, Cohn, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
That camp did score some victories in Europe. In Warsaw, Trump reaffirmed his support for the collective-defense provision of the NATO treaty known as Article 5, which he has questioned in the past.
And in Hamburg, Trump joined a G20 communiqué affirming the importance of global trade, although it commits him to no specific action.
But there were more setbacks than wins for the globalist-establishment wing.
In Poland, Trump delivered a speech that reflected the strong views of both Bannon and Miller, believers in strong national borders and the defense of a Judeo-Christian identity against liberal multiculturalism. The speech hailed a right-wing government that France’s Macron has said is not “an open and free democracy.”
Also in Poland, Trump sharply criticized NATO allies for not spending more on defense, while also taking credit for pressuring them to increase their contributions.
And he again cast public doubt on whether Russia meddled in the 2016 election, as U.S. intelligence officials believe. On Saturday, White House officials would not refute a claim by Russia’s foreign minister that Trump had accepted Putin’s denial on the question during a meeting between the two leaders.
In Germany, Trump would not budge on his rejection of the 2015 Paris climate accord nor assure nervous leaders that he will not impose steel tariffs that could trigger a larger trade battle. Most of Trump’s cabinet, along with Cohn, strongly oppose such a move. But Bannon, Miller, and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro are reportedly in favor.
The current mood in the Trump White House is a reversal of fortune for the globalist faction, which appeared dominant in early spring after Trump decided not to withdraw from the NAFTA free trade pact; suggested he might honor the Paris accord; declined to label China a currency manipulator; and allowed top officials like Mattis and Vice President Mike Pence to offer strong support for the EU and NATO.
But in late May, Mattis, McMaster and Tillerson were embarrassed when Trump visited NATO headquarters in Brussels and omitted a passage in his speech affirming Article 5 of the NATO treaty. Trump announced he would withdraw from the Paris agreement a few days later.
The battle is far from over, with the two sides struggling over the decision on steel tariffs — which could come at any time — and for control over Trump’s symbolic July 14 visit to Paris for Bastille Day.
Macron was elected in May after a tight race against a right-wing nationalist, Marine Le Pen. Macron sharply critiqued Le Pen’s hostility to immigrants and her skepticism of the EU and NATO.
In the final days of the race, Trump posted tweets that suggested support for Le Pen, although Trump has since claimed that he wanted Macron to win.
An appearance in Paris on Bastille Day likely holds a special appeal for Bannon, a European history buff fascinated by the French Revolution, and who has expressed support for nationalist candidates across Europe.
What role Bannon or his ally Miller might play in shaping Trump’s visit to Paris, and any remarks he might make there, is unclear.