On 7th February the Henry Jackson Society and Jonathan Djanogly MP welcomed Craig Kennedy of Washington-based centre-right think tank the Hudson Institute to the House of Commons for a discussion on the Trump Presidency – ’17 days in’. Kennedy began by asserting that what we have is a “coalition government” between an anti-establishment populist President and an establishment Republican Party. Trump is defined by a lack of ideology and a belief in being a “disruptive President” while the Republican Party are legislators and instinctively conservative. In cabinet this divide was represented by Flynn and Bannon on one side and Priebus and Pence on the other. While Kennedy suggested that clashes could occur between these sides, he argued that differences could be reconciled.
Points of agreeance, he said, could be found on a suspicion of multilateral organisations and of the Supreme Court, the commitment to military spending and to deconstructing Obamacare. The issues of conflict were Trump’s anti-trade protectionist rhetoric, his vows of deficit spending, comments about NATO and admiration for Russia and Turkey. Complex issues were immigration, infrastructure, energy policy, tax cuts and the Chinese question, suggesting that foreign policy would be the most problematic. Trump, after all, needs action to appease his voters while the Republicans are seeking to expand further into the House and Senate in the 2018 mid-terms.
As for the Democratic Party, Kennedy highlighted Trump’s early attempts to woo the unions and make the cultural left seem radical and violent. This was in the hope of winning more support in the industrial Mid-West while also alienating voters from other parts of the Democratic Party. From a UK perspective, Kennedy warned that it would be difficult in this initial period, four times as confusing as a more orthodox Presidency but urged us not to “give up on America… quite yet”.
In a varied Q&A session, Kennedy was asked about topics ranging from Trump’s pick for Secretary of State to relations with Iran to his attitude towards the EU. Having worked with Rex Tillerson, he saw him as a “smart guy” whose much-questioned connections to Exxon were no worse than other previous cabinet members’ such as Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates. On Iran, Kennedy stated that although Trump was seeking to invest in the military he had pledged never to get America in a war like Iraq again and that economic sanctions were to follow.
On Asian security issues, Kennedy noted that Prime Minister Abe was the only state leader to have met Trump twice and that General Mattis had affirmed the need to maintain ties with Japan and South Korea. The EU, Kennedy opined, was something that he thought Trump didn’t much care about, but suggested that steady Atlanticist officials were being appointed to key positions. As for the future, Kennedy declared his faith in American institutions to correct lurches of the Presidency but stressed that it was too early to tell on a number of issues and that “we are in the third minute of the film”.
For a transcript of this event click here