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.”
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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 Haass, 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.