Already I can almost hear the chorus of responses: “No chance,” “Unlikely,” “God forbid.”
But two things immediately spring to mind here. The first is that the world should have learned by now never to say never when it comes to Trump.
The other is that in responding negatively to such a prospect as Trump’s return to the White House, we do so as Europeans, barely pausing to consider that many Americans don’t think the same way about Trump – far from it.
Admittedly, if some recent polls are to be believed then Trump’s standing took a bit of a dent of late in the Republican presidential race, dropping slightly after he skipped his party’s first debate and his mug shot appeared following his booking at a Georgia jail on felony charges.
But other polls tell a very different story with some suggesting that more Americans see Trump as electable. One very recent US Morning Consult poll showed that 62% of potential primary voters surveyed believe Trump has the best chance of any Republican of beating President Joe Biden.
But rather than get bogged down in polls, let’s skip ahead and consider that hypothetical scenario I mentioned, whereby Trump wins not only the Republican nomination but the presidency.
It might be more than a year away but that’s nothing timescale-wise in geopolitics. And if some US allies around the world – especially in Europe – have not woken up to the possibility of a Trump return to the White House then it’s high time they did so. To begin with, like it or not, the fact is that the US plays an enormous role in European security.
What then if Trump as he has previously threatened, decided to withdraw from Nato?
The implications of this would be profound, for again like it or not, Washington picks up the lion’s share of the tab for Nato.
In fact, only 10 of America’s 30 allies will meet the Nato defence-spending target of 2% of GDP this year Any US withdrawal from Nato instigated by a Trump presidency would doubtless face stern opposition in Congress, but alliances are built on trust and that is in short supply within Nato regards Trump after its rocky experience during his last term in office.
Trump turning his back on Nato would of course be music to the ears of the Kremlin, serving to speed up the undoing of the European order that Russian president Vladimir Putin so wants to see. It would impact too on nuclear “deterrence”.
With Russia in possession of nearly 6000 nuclear warheads and Britain and France having about 200-300 each, then without America, a rethinking would have to be done by European nuclear powers on everything from stockpiles to policy and collaboration with remaining allies.
Given Scotland’s obvious geostrategic location in all of this then the implications would be felt right on our very own doorstep.
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As Bronwen Maddox, director of the UK-based think tank Chatham House, rightly pointed out in the Financial Times this week, British foreign policy like that in much of Europe is based on “the presumption that the US in some sense always remains the same”.
“Its presidents, its policies, its wars of choice come and go. But America upholds the principle of international institutions even if it rails against some of them or funds them sporadically … those assumptions are confounded if Donald Trump is elected again,” Maddox warned.
Any Trump administration would also at best confound and at worst potentially spell disaster for Ukraine and its battle against the Russian invasion. Hardly surprising then that some governments are trying to lock in military assistance to Ukraine in an effort to build a bulwark should a newly elected Trump scale back US support.
To that end members of the Group of Seven wealthy nations are trying to reach bilateral agreements with Kyiv to provide weapons that meet Nato standards.
“Trump unbound” presidency
Trump’s return to the world stage could have other significant impacts on geopolitics too.
As The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted based on interviews with senior policymakers and politicians, among the most widespread fears is that Trump would spark a global trade war.
Just as with Nato, Trump has issued other threats in the past in this case to impose fresh tariffs on all goods imported into the US.
Not only would such a move hit US allies and adversaries alike, but only further widen divisions in trans-Atlantic relations in a time of war.
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If one thing is almost certain in all of this, it’s that the return of a “Trump unbound” presidency, as it’s sometimes been dubbed, would make his previous inflammatory, explosive term in office pale by comparison alongside what might lie ahead.
The next president Trump would be sure to harbour even more grudges than those that he is already infamous for. There would be a lingering, residual resentment for those he perceives to have slighted or challenged him.
In Trump’s crosshairs would be those who had “denied” him a victory in the last election and helped bring him and his alleged co-conspirators to account for trying to usurp the results.
In short, this would be an even more focused and less constrained president who would view America’s role in the world as one where Donald J Trump has been given the God-given right to rule as he sees fit without due recognition of the rule of law both domestically and on the international stage.
That prospect means that very quickly now Europe – and Scotland as part of it – needs to think again about what this means for our own politics.
What’s worrying is that to date the last UK statement of its foreign policy – which only a Tory government could have gauchely dubbed the “Integrated Review Refresh” – appears to have barely considered the implications of a Trump return and the overhaul of US foreign policy that will come with it.
Here’s hoping that on November 5 next year around the same time that the UK commemorates Guy Fawkes Day, the people of the US don’t blow their own chances of keeping Trump out of the White House.
Here in Europe meanwhile, we need to wake up to the threat of Trump II and have at the very least a Plan B.