In January 2020, US President Donald Trump began his fourth year in office, the last year of his first term, with presidential elections scheduled for November. Throughout the past three years, Trump has been able to change the face of US domestic affairs, which in turn reflected on US foreign policy.
There are three major domestic shifts that will affect the shape of the US foreign policy in 2020.
A NEW RIGHT WING TAKES SHAPE
When Trump ran for the presidency for the Republicans in 2016, he did not win the support of many leaders. Many Republicans viewed Trump as an outsider and that his ideas did not reflect the traditional body of the political wing he represents. After three years in office, however, Trump managed to control the Republican Party, and his ideas became a major part of his vision for the United States. Over the past three years, the Republicans have witnessed an important ideological transformation, becoming a new right wing different from the traditional right that the party represented for many years.
One of these differences is related to government spending. The ideas and policies of the traditional right were based on fiscal discipline and a reduction in government spending, but Trump’s trend has been linked to increased spending and the adoption of a massive infrastructure programme. The traditional right was supportive of ideas related to freedom of trade between countries of the world, while the new right wing adopted what is known as “economic nationalism”, which aims to reformulate the rules governing the global economy, as well as protectionist policies.
This is related to the fact that the traditional right wing used to direct its political rhetoric to the upper classes, and businessmen formed a basic aspect of its popular base. Nonetheless, the present right wing is targeting the working class, or “blue collar” Americans, who have historically been inclined towards the left wing. Trump was able to take advantage of their anger at the policies of globalisation and trade liberalisation, and attracted them to vote for him. The new right wing will have a major impact on the domestic and foreign policies of the US.
DEEPENING DOMESTIC POLARISATION
Political polarisation has intensified in the US during the past three years, especially with the launch of measures in 2019 to impeach Trump. Democrats have used these measures to achieve a political goal, which is to contribute to Trump’s departure from the White House in the upcoming presidential elections, by accusing him of violating the powers of the presidency to achieve private gains, and seeking to destroy institutions and disturb the constitutional balance between the presidency and Congress.
In other words, the Democrats sought to portray Trump as a “dangerous”, “reckless” and “untrustworthy” figure to run the state administration. President Trump dealt with his impeachment with a political logic, accusing the Democrats of seeking to “steal the will and voices of American voters” who legitimately brought him to the White House, and that they (the Democrats) consume all the time of the legislative institution to try to isolate him instead of paying attention to the crucial issues of the people.
In addition, the Democrats’ accusations of Trump that he “destroys” the traditions of government and “antagonises” institutions make him more popular in the social base that elected him to achieve these goals.
But regardless of the gains that each party is making, these measures have contributed to deepening the rift between the Republicans and Democrats and exacerbating internal polarisation in the country, which will continue during 2020.
THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN
Last year witnessed the beginning of the campaign for the 2020 US presidential election, taking place in November. President Trump has a good chance of being re-elected for a second term due to the improved economic conditions in the country during his tenure, as well as the advantages of being the incumbent president. Historical precedents show that a president rarely loses in his quest to win a second term.
Although Trump is still counting on the popular base that elected him, he did not expand this base, and the elections will ultimately depend on the ability of each candidate to mobilise voters. The Democratic Party managed to mobilise large numbers of voters in the mid-term elections in 2018, which resulted in the Democrats winning a congressional majority. Some are counting on a similar mobilisation campaign that could bring to the helm the Democratic nominee. In any case, the presidential campaign will be the focus of events in 2020.
Based on the aforementioned, 2020 will see less interest in foreign policy affairs in favour of domestic issues that mainly concern the American people. Making a comeback will be the stern subjects of immigration, environmental and climate issues, and the demand for more financial contributions from US allies.
US involvement in major military operations overseas will also be avoided. A new trade agreement is likely to be reached with China, which will keep economic conditions in the US improving. In short, it is election calculations and Trump’s pursuit of his base that will drive US foreign policy in 2020.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly
** This article was first published in the newly released Outlook 2020: Egypt’s Projections of Regional and Global Issues by the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS).