So, which Donald Trump will show up in Davos this week? The successful billionaire businessman? Or the blustering, boastful America First party-crasher, tracking dirty snow into the annual Swiss love-fest of globalism in the Alps?
Answer: it probably doesn’t matter.
“He’ll be among members of an economic circle he’s familiar with,” says Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation. “Some of them, secretly, have a lot of respect for what he’s trying to accomplish.”
“I doubt if he’ll be able to restrain himself from throwing some fireworks into the crowd, especially wherever Angela Merkel is standing.”
But, Gardiner warns, “I doubt if he’ll be able to restrain himself from throwing some fireworks into the crowd, especially wherever Angela Merkel is standing.”
Indeed, Trump, who is breaking presidential precedent by attending the World Economic Forum, has made little effort to kiss and make up after several public spats with the German chancellor. But, then again, why should he?
“Germany needs the United States more than we need them,” says James S. Gilmore, the former Virginia governor who now runs the American Opportunity Foundation.
“No one turns to Germany to solve the situation in North Korea, or to bring Iran around, or to save Syria. In the end, it’s U.S. leadership that matters. Trump’s tough talk isn’t leading us into a war. It’s preventing one.”
Not everyone at a symposium last week, hosted by the Washington-based Center for the National Interest, agreed with Gilmore.
“Our image around the world is in the dirt,” said Dov Zakheim, the center’s vice chairman. “The shining city on the hill has been besmirched by this president.”
Zakheim cites Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership as evidence that, despite his rhetoric, he is ceding world influence to China, which, he says, other countries now regard as a more reliable partner than the United States of Trump.
Everyone at the Symposium conceded that Trump has projected a new image of America to the world in his first year in office. And in Davos, the Alpine mountain idyll that has come to symbolize the Woodstock of the rich and powerful, his globalism-be-damned message is sure to make him as welcome as an overnight avalanche.
So be it, says Gilmore. “The president is trying to change the existing order, and that is jarring to a lot of people. What it says is intended to change the way people think. He’s tired of seeing America get pushed around.”
How he expresses that philosophy at Davos may prove to be a seminal moment for the president. He might be able to thaw relations with some traditional allies. Or, the forum may be best remembered for plunging the Western world into an age of permafrost.