Washington begins to say goodbye to Donald Trump

By Simon Gentry, Newgate Public Affairs

Whisper it, but we are coming to the end of Donald Trump’s Presidency.  He may not know it, but parts of his administration do and the governments of other countries do too.

With a little over four months to go before Americans go to the polls on 3 November, ‘Sleepy’ Joe Biden, as Trump calls him, is developing a marked and apparently solid lead in most polls, and surprisingly in many traditionally Republican states.

The endless Twitter dramas, hints of corruption, the denial and then chaotic response to the Coronavirus crisis and finally the fury of Black Americans who feel they are not getting a fair crack at the American Dream, seem to have moved the polls decisively in Biden’s favour.  Whether Biden’s lead can be maintained through the next four months is anyone’s guess, but the economic figures are probably going to be grim for a couple more months at least, making it hard to see how Trump could overturn Biden’s lead.

Contacts in Washington have been pointing to a range of small but significant signs that people in the Trump administration think he’ll end up a (rare) one term President.  First, there is a trickle of people quietly leaving to take up positions in K Street lobbying and public affairs firms.  Then there is the growing sense that there is no point in putting energy into policy initiatives which a new administration will not take on. 

A good example of the latter is the OECD-sponsored discussions on how the tech titans that include the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon amongst others are taxed. The UK and France are leading a chorus of countries saying that they are going to press on with changes to their tax codes which will result in them capturing more tax revenue than the pitifully small amounts they currently gather.  Trump was filled with indignation that it was mainly American companies that would be caught by the changes.  It was a bit surprising therefore that his team have just announced that they are pulling out of the discussions.  People close to the talks say that this is, in part at least, because they knew they were losing the argument, but just as importantly they know that Biden will take a different view of the issue and so it’s not worth the effort anymore.

The Chinese government also seem to recognise that if they can drag the various discussions that are going on between the two countries on for another two months or so they will face a transformed environment in the new year.  Negotiations on a range of things from North Korea to trade seem to be losing momentum and petering out.

This has implications for the UK. The consensus in London was that Trump wanted a trade deal with the UK to be one of the accomplishments he could show his electorate during his re-election campaign.  Contacts in Washington DC believe that Corona-19 aside, what they see as the UK’s misapprehensions about Trump’s commitment have begun to evaporate as the chaotic management in the White House means the negotiations are making slow progress.

One of most brutal things I’ve observed in politics over the years is the way power suddenly vanishes as those around the leader realise that it’s over.  For someone like Trump, used to getting his own way, it’s going to be excruciating. The sudden powerlessness, the failure of people to answer calls, the rudeness and disrespect from officials who have secretly loathed him for years and eventually the long walk to the helicopter on the White House lawn will be an agony.