Trump’s game plan for 24: Be the dove among the hawks

The claims are a continuation of a posture that Trump has sought to project both as a presidential candidate in 2016 and in the White House — a posture sometimes contradicted by his record.

But his renewed interest in international affairs also comes as the Republican primary arena is expected to be crowded with potential challengers likely to present their own bona fide foreign policy. This includes two former Trump lieutenants: former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Those close to Trump’s campaign operation say he plans to try to portray himself as an anti-war dove among hawks. They think it will resonate with GOP voters who are divided, but increasingly wary, of Ukraine’s continued support in its war with Russia.

“Trump is the peace president and he’s the first president in two generations not to start a war, whereas if you look at DeSantis’ record in Congress he voted for more commitment and more military commitment overseas,” a person close to the Trump campaign said. , who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the internal discussions.

“Trump is the only person who said there is no more funding for the war in Ukraine. I have never heard Nikki Haley say anything like that… Pompeo or Pence? What is their position on Ukraine?

In fact, Haley, Pence, and Pompeo have all, to varying degrees, called on the United States to fund Ukrainians and even, on occasion, criticized the Biden administration for not doing enough.

Yet Trump’s modernized “America First” framework has already had far-reaching implications, both in upsetting establishment Republican and neo-conservative orthodoxy on foreign policy and in clouding consensus on issues ranging from military intervention to how to deal with ruthless dictators.

And as several Republican officials noted for this story, last week the conservative and once hawkish Heritage Foundation backed away from its longstanding demands for a strong defense budget and said Pentagon spending cuts should be on the table in the debt ceiling negotiations.

“I think national security is going to be a much bigger issue in 2024 than in most recent presidential elections,” said former Trump national security adviser turned public critic John Bolton, who is also considering a race in 2024. “You may have noticed a Chinese balloon hovering over the country today.”

Realizing that his instincts aren’t as hawkish as some of his potential Republican opponents, Trump and his aides have begun to draw contrasts and define the parameters of the debate.

On Thursday, Trump said Pompeo “took a little more credit than he should” for accomplishments while he was secretary of state, a sign that Trump may be trying to downplay Pompeo’s foreign policy experience. his adversaries, although he was appointed by him. Later in the day, the Trump-supporting super PAC pointed to recent attacks on Haley by right-wing conservative commentators, some of whom called her a “warmonger” and a “neocon Nikki.”

Trump’s team was also eager to tout a Wall Street Journal Editorial endorsement this week from Sen. JD Vancethe populist Republican from Ohio, who has touted Trump’s inclination not to get into foreign entanglements.

“Every Republican candidate is going to oppose [critical race theory]. Every Republican candidate will say secure the border and oppose amnesty. Every Republican race is for lower taxes and less regulation,” an adviser to Vance said of Trump’s early foreign policy games. “It makes sense for Trump to drag the race where his opponents don’t want to be.”

Trump’s team also sees foreign policy as an area to draw distinctions with his potential chief political foe, DeSantis, who has drawn national attention for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and his embrace of culture wars but who, as governor, has a limited record internationally.

“Governors will have a hard time proving their foreign policy skills because it’s not in their job description, so they’re going to have to do something to step in and prove to voters that they’re capable of handling all these issues that are coming their way. show up on the world stage,” said David Urban, a Republican strategist who remains close to many potential 2024 contenders.

“[Potential] candidates such as Pompeo and Haley and Pence and the [former] president can say, “Here I am sitting with Kim Jong Un, and here is what we were able to accomplish with the Abraham Accords or on the USMCA.” Everyone has something they can concretely talk about where governors can’t and that will be a point of differentiation among a large group of them.

There are already signs that DeSantis is taking action to tackle this likely line of attack. He has had phone calls and meetings with foreign leaders and ambassadors over the past few months, including a face-to-face session in Tallahassee last week with Mario Abdo Benítez, the president of Paraguay. Relatives of Paraguay’s first lady – Silvana Abdo – were killed in the deadly 2021 Surfside condominium collapse.

Last December, DeSantis met in his office with Michael Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, as well as Yousef Al Otaiba, the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates. Right after DeSantis was easily re-elected, he met with top Japanese officials, including Koji Tomita, ambassador to the United States, as well as Japanese business leaders.

“Florida continues to be an important political and economic partner for many countries around the world, and as foreign officials request meetings with our office, these ties should be further developed,” said Bryan Griffin, gatekeeper. word of DeSantis.

Bolton, for his part, said he believed Trump would prove vulnerable in foreign policy when it became clear he had none.

“He doesn’t have politics on much, he has Donald Trump,” he said. “So his most recent thought is that if he was president he could resolve the Ukraine-Russia dispute in 24 hours – I think it’s so ridiculous that he’s falling on his own weight. … I think people over time and self-identified Republicans just don’t buy it.

But so far, Trump’s other likely opponents aren’t taking the bait. DeSantis fired back this week at Trump’s digs into the governor’s Covid response, touting his margin of victory in Florida’s November election, but did not seek to defend his foreign policy record.

A person familiar with Haley’s political operation, meanwhile, said the former UN ambassador would tout her own foreign policy record, one that involved helping Trump secure some of his key achievements. abroad. They include moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, abrogating a nuclear deal with Iran, and securing China’s adherence to sanctions against South Korea. North.

Although there are deep rifts between Haley and her former boss – she championed US support for Ukraine and became an outspoken critic of Putin and Moscow during her tenure in the Trump administration – she is unlikely to take swipes at Trump, choosing instead to criticize Biden’s approach to China, Iran and the US pullout from Afghanistan.

“That’s not the goal,” Haley’s ally said of the contrast with Trump. “We are focused on Biden.”


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