Fear struck across Europe, a continent that is home to more than 746 million people, as just over 300,000 voters in a small state in the upper northeast corner of the United States delivered a resounding 11-point victory for former president Donald Trump. With the result in the New Hampshire primary contest, the hope that Nikki Haley could turn the tide and bring a degree of normalcy back to the Republican Party quickly collapsed.
Trump may have been victorious in New Hampshire, but he did not disguise his ire that Nikki Haley had dared to stay in that race after their other rivals withdrew. The day after his win, Trump announced on his Truth Social account that ‘anybody that makes a “Contribution” to Birdbrain, from this moment forth, will be permanently barred from the MAGA camp’.
The extent to which New Hampshire upset the former president and unleashed his vitriol is telling. His base of white voters without a college degree are very enthusiastic about Trump, but they are a steadily shrinking demographic.
Many Americans see Trump as racist and sexist. Losing 41 per cent of voters in a Republican primary to an Indian-American woman is a sign that many independent and Republican voters are looking for an alternative, and a Trump victory in the November general election (assuming he is the candidate), is far from obvious.
More than 60 per cent of Nikki Haley’s independent voters said that if Trump is the candidate, they would either stay home on election day or vote for President Biden.
What should the world expect from Trump 2.0?
The uncertainty surrounding the future of the US is already creating a palpable anxiety across US partners and allies. The stakes for Europe, especially, couldn’t be higher.
The rush towards Trump’s nomination has already disrupted lawmakers’ progress towards agreeing the $100 billion bill combining border security, with $60 billion assistance for Ukraine, and also security assistance for Israel and Taiwan.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican senator and minority leader, prevaricated on a deal he had previously backed as Trump used his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire to disrupt negotiations and stoke anti-immigrant sentiment at the southern border.
Even if the current spending package is passed, which still seems likely, Europe’s confidence will be fundamentally shaken. So it should be. Trump has threatened to pull the US out of NATO and to cease US military assistance to Ukraine.
A second Biden term may also see a shift in US support of Ukraine but one that is likely to be carefully coordinated with Europe. Trump’s affinity for Putin, and his antipathy for Europe’s dependence, places an immediate premium on Europe to mobilize military assistance and offer bilateral security guarantees to Kyiv.
America’s basic policy in the Middle East – support for Israel and deterrence of Iran – may not change under a Trump administration, but Trump is likely to stand even more resolutely behind Israel, making the prospect of a two-state solution even more remote.
Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric will also turbocharge accusations of hypocrisy that emanate from the global south. If he returns to the White House, Biden’s efforts to work with the G7 and also with India to deliver an alternative, values-based policy for investment in infrastructure for the developing world that can compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, is sure to stall.
Trump has also towed a careful line on globalization, striving to be the candidate that can deliver a robust economy by cutting taxes and deregulating the economy. He has also promised to slap a 10 per cent tariff on all goods entering the US and will double down on his America First, anti-globalist agenda. This will be a problem for American consumers, a frustration for its businesses, and a headache for Europe, Asia, and much of the rest of the world.
No one knows, possibly not even the former president, which among these proposals would prove to be bluffs. That is the point. And it is this uncertainty which signals to Americans and Europeans alike that now is the time to prepare.
The most powerful supporters of the Republican Party face a choice, whether to hedge against a Trump presidency, or hold firm. Following the 6 January insurrection on the US Capitol, and the former president’s role in it, many donors said they would no longer support president Trump. But choosing to oppose Trump could be a choice with high penalties if the former president is successful in November.
Europe too now faces a choice, whether to prepare for a future where US support is far less reliable or double down on its efforts to secure an unshakable transatlantic partnership. It should do both. The pressure on Europe to increase its defence spending will not disappear and nor should it. The imperative to enhance intra-European cooperation on security and defence, including within NATO, is also obvious.
The security environment is unlikely to ease any time soon. So long as there is a prospect of Trump returning to the White House, a man who is inexplicably sympathetic to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president’s incentive to double down on his war efforts will remain strong.
Investing in democracy
In the remaining months before the US elections, Europeans and Americans alike should recommit to their shared values and invest in measures to fix their democracies.