Donald Trump fails the presidential test in foreign policy speech

TV reality shows and being president have nothing in common; one is entertainment, the other is about building consensus and finding common ground at home and abroad

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 April, 2016, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 November, 2016, 10:40am

Donald Trump chose foreign policy for his first presidential-style campaign speech, an issue that few American voters worry about on election day. Every word that the front runner for the Republican Party’s nomination utters on the matter is closely watched elsewhere though, and understandably so given the US’ continued global dominance. His remarks on China, Asian allies, Muslims and Mexicans have stirred concern and his decision to expand on his often brash views before a Washington think-tank was eagerly anticipated. Fears that existed before he spoke were not allayed.

Trump abandoned his trademark rudeness and bullying in favour of a teleprompter and calmer tones. But for all the change in his presentation and demeanour, the message was the same: Should he be elected president, he would adopt an America-first policy. The tycoon spoke of foreign relations as if they were the same as the business deals that feature in his popular syndicated television show The Apprentice. If a deal cannot be attained, “in negotiation, you must be willing to walk,” he observed.

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It is a simplistic way to look at the complexities and diplomacy of foreign policy. US might could be used to push China into doing more about reining in North Korea and if a mutually beneficial relationship could not be found, “we can both go our separate ways”. Countries that relied on the American military for support and protection should be prepared to pay their way and if not, troops should be pulled out. This sounds like isolationism, something Americans and the world do not need at a time of economic uncertainty, where working together is the most viable way to restore robust growth.

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But Trump is not one for exactitude. He contradicted himself on dealing with China, allies, foreign trade and bringing peace to the Middle East. There was much in his speech for political opponents to criticise. But those same politicians are the ones his supporters love to hate and that is why they have so much faith in the blunt-speaking businessman: They are disillusioned with the partisanship of America’s political system that has led to a near-stagnation in enacting policies.

What is said on the campaign trail bears little relation to reality. If Trump makes it to the presidency, Americans will expect him to be presidential. The set of The Apprentice and the White House have nothing in common; one is entertainment, the other is about building consensus and finding common ground, at home and abroad.