President Trump is set to join the ultimate cool kids’ club at the World Economic Forum in the swish Swiss town of Davos, where he is expected to push his “America First” agenda -- but how the brash billionaire from Queens will be received at the highfalutin meeting of globalist elites is far from clear.
The White House announced Tuesday that Trump will attend the World Economic Forum, where international bigwigs, executives and politicians rub shoulders. The White House said Trump’s “America First” focus will remain his top priority at the Jan. 23-26 summit.
“The President welcomes opportunities to advance his America First agenda with world leaders,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “At this year’s World Economic Forum, the President looks forward to promoting his policies to strengthen American businesses, American industries, and American workers.”
An American president has not visited the gathering since 2000, when President Bill Clinton attended, according to the New York Times. Trump did not attend the gathering last year, with a senior transition official telling Bloomberg News at that time that Trump thought it would “betray his populist-fueled movement” to attend.
A year later and much has changed. Former chief strategist Steve Bannon, one of the main populist voices in the Trump White House, is no longer in the West Wing, and other more receptive voices such as senior adviser Jared Kushner and top economic adviser Gary Cohn (who has reportedly attended the summit before) are still in place.
Analysts suggest that while Davos represents a sort of “globalist” supranational approach unlike the nationalist mentality Trump campaigned on, it could be a savvy move by the president -- and he may feel at home in a more business-centric environment.
'He is going into the lion’s den.'
“For Trump, the calculation may be that 'this is where the CEOs are, this is where jobs are for my country, so this is what I’m going to do,'” Michael Cohen, director of the Political Management Program at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, told Fox News. “He may see this as a business conference where he can talk up the country and its resources and get more investment.”
“It’s a natural fit that he would take his message to the financial chiefs and bankers at Davos,” Nile Gardiner, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, said. “Barack Obama couldn’t have pulled this off I think.”
But those hoping for a centrist-style pivot and a sweeping embrace of internationalism from the president are likely to be left disappointed.
Trump’s prior visits to big gatherings of elites who are more likely to be hostile to Trump’s nationalist agenda -- such as the NATO summit in Brussels, the G20 in Hamburg or the United Nations General Assembly in New York -- have not resulted in a cowed Trump.
In Brussels, Trump was seen shoving the prime minister of Montenegro and pulling French President Emmanuel Macron around like a rag doll, while at the U.N. General Assembly, Trump gave one of his most full-throated defenses of “America First” to date.
“The United States will forever be a great friend to the world, and especially to its allies. But we can no longer be taken advantage of, or enter into a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return,” he said in September. “As long as I hold this office, I will defend America’s interests above all else.”
Cohen predicted a similar line in Switzerland.
“He will probably go to Davos and make a speech like at the U.N., that while we need to work together we also have to take care of our people. 'I am here to sell the U.S. to the world,'” Cohen said. “That’s the way he splits the difference between the two.”
Trump is likely to be treated as something of a curiosity, with elites both attracted to his power and his economic reforms, while somewhat repulsed by his populist agenda -- meaning he could face a mix of smiles and hostility.
“He is going into the lion’s den,” Gardiner said.