June 22, 2020
What we learned from Trump in Tulsa
It was interesting that the German press, even the serious papers, focused on the empty chairs in Tulsa, Oklahoma, rather than the bits of Donald Trump's speech that related to Germany directly. We put this down to the classic confirmation bias that feeds much of journalism these days. We are looking out for further clues whether Donald Trump is turning transatlantic relations into an election theme. But more importantly, with more than four months to go until the US elections, Trump could pull off a few nasty surprises on trade, Nato and assorted sanctions in the meantime.
Trump's ire is directed almost entirely against Germany, not the EU in general. What struck us is the explicit link between Nord Stream 2 and the threatened reductions in US troops stationed in Germany. We thought it would be useful to transcribe the relevant passage to get a sense of how Trump is turning this into an election theme. The following is a slightly abridged quote from a transcript. Please note that the number he cites below are wrong.
"When I take soldiers out of countries, then because they are not treated properly. I have German heritage, but
let's get it down from 50,000 to 25,000 because they are delinquent, they haven't been paying what they are supposed to have been paying. They are paying 1% instead of 2%, and 2% is a very low number. They say, yes we think by 2030, maybe 2032. I said No Angela, Angela please, Angela - you know what I am talking about. Nice woman by the way, very good negotiator. I said Angela, this is a long time. She said this in 2019. I said, No Angela this is not working. I said what about the last 25 years, the money you owe us. You've forgot about that. What about the trillion dollars. So we are negotiating, let's see. Remember this, we are supposed to protect Germany from Russia. But Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for energy coming from a brand-new pipeline, so they pay the country we are supposed to protect them from billions of dollars. How does that work?"
In his FT column, Wolfgang Münchau said he expects the various transatlantic disputes to come to a head in the next few months. Normally, US election campaigns provide some reprieve from foreign policy conflicts, but not this time. In the quoted part of his speech, the audience reacted with spontaneous applause when he criticised Germany for giving money to the country the US is protecting Germany from. Rhetorically, this was the most successful part of this section of his speech. Trump is an instinctive orator. The theme that got him elected in 2016, America being exploited by nasty allies, still works for him and his audiences.
We take no views on the US elections themselves. We'll leave that to others. But, in the meantime, expect transatlantic relations to get worse. We also don't think that Biden can or will position himself in this campaign as a protector of the transatlantic alliance.