Op-Ed: Trump will stay the largest impediment for President-elect Biden even after he takes workplace


U.S. President Donald Trump turns away in the rain after laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as he attends a Veterans Day celebration at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia on November 11, 2020.

Carlos Barria | Reuters

President Donald Trump's continued refusal to allow elections in 2020 poses a number of national security threats. However, the most dangerous of them all does not appear on the traditional list of threats preoccupied by the Washington Legion of Foreign Policy Experts.

That doesn't mean there isn't any potential for heightened threat in the usual list of concerns: China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, or terrorism. It's just that none of them, significant as they are, pose as existential threat to U.S. interests at home and abroad as the growing prospect of continued domestic polarization and growing cultural differences.

These in turn cause the opponents to seek an advantage by fueling these divisions and finding an advantage in them. It leaves behind even the most hopeful of allies, encouraged by President-elect Joe Biden's dedication to restoring a more traditional US approach to the international common cause and to hedge their bets.

President Trump's actions after his electoral defeat, which will not change the outcome of his departure from office on January 20 next year, underscore his intention to emerge as the main force of the Republican Party and thus a continued international rallying point for populist and nationalist politicians worldwide.

The failure of so many such leaders around the world to recognize the victory of President-elect Biden underscores this reality. These included the Russian Vladimir Putin, the Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro and the Mexican Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša has congratulated Trump on his victory.

The closer Trump's departure day approaches, the more he talks to friends about preparing the ground for a run in 2024 to recapture the office he is so reluctant to leave. He promises to be an equally untraditional past president and to stay in the limelight by whatever means will prove most effective since he was in office.

President-elect Biden wants to counter President Trump's continued influence and achieve his goal of being the unified leader for all Americans and for global democracies. If he can do that, his team believes he could be one of those transformative presidents who pop up every now and then at historic moments. What could be more than our era of health crisis, economic threats, authoritarian resurgence around China's rise, and democratic weakness?

President-elect Joe Biden discusses the protection of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its health plans during a news conference on November 10, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

To achieve this result, his team must first kill the Trump Dragon, which remains their greatest obstacle. To do this, they need to examine the four key motivations behind President Trump's actions after the November 3rd election.

These include:

Trump maintains his leadership of the Republican Party. He is determined to remain the kingmaker for primary elections and state races while being able to kill candidatures that are unfaithful to him. It would be short-sighted not to take Trump's plans to run for president again in 2024 at the age of 78 seriously. Even if he doesn't run, only the suggestion to keep him at the center of national and international attention.Trump emerged from his election defeat with enough prestige and authority to refinance his business and get new credit. In any event, he is under significant financial pressure, including a debt burden of between $ 400 billion and $ 1 billion. To preserve his brand, he'll have to fund it, including the possibility reported by Axios that he plans to launch a digital media channel to compete with Fox.Achieve immunity from federal prosecution. President Trump believes the law could allow him to forgive himself, a concept that would almost certainly be scrutinized up to and including the Supreme Court. Trump has other options as well: He could step down before January 20 and have Vice President Mike Pence apologize. President-elect Biden on the campaign said he would not forgive Trump. Trump would want to protect his family members and ensure that they can continue to pursue their business and political interests.

The dilemma for the Biden team is that if President Trump achieves these four goals, he is more likely to calmly retire from office. However, its success would also ensure that it remains an immovable obstacle.

Republican leaders, especially those in the Senate who have failed to criticize President Trump or ask him to allow the election, privately cite several reasons.

First, they say they don't want to corner Trump, which they think would make him more difficult, and they are trying to give him space to make his own decision to step down. Second, they acknowledge that he has won more than 72 million national votes, the most Republican presidential candidate in history, and will continue to influence their political future.

Ultimately, the Republican Party is focused on winning the two Senate runoff elections in Georgia in January, where likely more than $ 100 million will be spent on voting efforts. The issue in Georgia is whether the Republicans will hold the Senate. Even the Republicans, who want Trump far from the scene, don't see miles in a confrontation Georgia might risk.

The 2020 election was a personal defeat for President Trump, but it was not the rejection of Trumpism that his opponents, both Democrats and Republicans, had hoped for. His party did better than expected in Senate and house races.

"If the Republican candidate for 2024 is not Mr. Trump himself," wrote William A. Galston of Brooking in the Wall Street Journal this weekend, "it will likely be someone who accepts the president's orientation without his loud rhetoric and character flaws. "

Galston wrote, "Mr Trump's critics saw him not only as a threat to racial progress and social inclusion, but also to the Constitution. And they understood that this threat was the culmination of longstanding trends."

If President Trump and Trumpism remain a central factor in American politics even in the opposition, this will have global consequences. Trump challenged party orthodoxy to alliances, to the use of American power, to promote democracy, to cooperate trade policy with democratic partners and in the harsh tone that he normalized in international statecraft.

To understand what is most driving President Trump right now, a colleague referred me to a must-have interview with Gaby Wood in January 2007 in the Observer of London. She concluded by asking, "If no one was looking at you, do you think you would still exist?"

Trump replied after a pause and with his palms together in front of his face: "No. Because I honestly wouldn't be having fun. There are people who are successful, but nobody knows who they are and I say what is the purpose? Everyone knows who I am. "

Regardless of what impact this could have on President-elect Biden's leadership ability, it seems unlikely that this reality will go away.

Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, award-winning journalist, and President and CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the most influential US think tanks on global affairs. He worked for the Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant editor-in-chief and senior editor for the European edition of the newspaper. His latest book – "Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth" – was a New York Times best seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter @FredKempe and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his view every Saturday of the top stories and trends of the past week.

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Katherine Clark