What America’s Midterm Elections Mean for Europe

The short version is: very little.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, American president Donald Trump, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and other G7 leaders meet in Charlevoix, June 8
German chancellor Angela Merkel, American president Donald Trump, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and other G7 leaders meet in Charlevoix, June 8 (Flickr/Justin Trudeau)

Congress doesn’t make foreign policy; the president does. So whether or not Donald Trump’s Republicans win or lose on Tuesday, America’s relations with its allies across the Atlantic are unlikely to change — for the better or worse.

Test

Gideon Rachman argues in the Financial Times that the rest of the world does see the midterms as a test of how much America has changed.

  • If the Republicans do better than expected, Europeans will conclude that Trumpism is here to stay and come to terms with an America that is highly protectionist and suspicious of treaties on principle — whether they deal with climate change, arms control, refugees or migration.
  • If Democrats do well, then the president’s foreign critics will cling on to the hope that the Trump years may yet turn out to be an aberration — and that the old America is waiting in the wings to return.

Inspiration

Trump-like parties are paying close attention. Frederick Kempe argues at the Atlantic Council’s New Atlanticist blog that, although the populist swing pre-dates Trump’s election, it has picked up momentum since.

Consider Italy, where Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the ruling Five Star Movement, this week told the Financial Times that Trump is his inspiration:

The US economy is growing at 4 percent with the expansive policies of Trump, which everyone said were wrong. He is expanding the deficit, lowering taxation and investing in infrastructure.

The last part of that statement is wrong — Trump is not making good on his promise to invest in infrastructure.

The rest of Di Maio’s analysis is simplistic. Yahoo Finance reports that there is little evidence the Republican tax cuts, which disproportionately favored corporations and the wealthy, have helped job creation or middle incomes. Wages are rising, but that is because the labor market is tightening — not because of the tax cuts. The economy is still growing, but that probably owes more to the policies of the Obama Administration than Trump’s.

Even if the tax cuts did ultimately create jobs, the gains could be offset by the effects of Trump’s trade tariffs.

That is long term, though. For now, if Republicans fend off a “blue wave” on Tuesday, expect Trump and his European admirers to claim vindication.