Ian Bremmer: Why Trump is going to Davos
Posted January 17, 2018 10:00 a.m. EST
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and author of Superpower: Three Choices for America's Role in the World. He is on Twitter @ianbremmer.
If Steve Bannon were still employed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (or even at Breitbart), President Trump would not be heading to Davos.
But things change quickly in Trump World; Bannon is out, and Trump is off to Switzerland to rub elbows with the 0.00001% of folks he has most in common with -- if you ignore all that "America Firstism."
It makes sense that Trump's remaining West Wing advisers see advantage in attending globalization's preeminent annual event. Given the sheer number of movers and shakers that attend Davos year in and year out, it's unarguably a useful place to get work done -- even if it looks a little strange to Trump's political base back home.
Just as important, Davos is a controlled environment -- Trump only travels to places where the rabble can't throw rocks at him (Saudi Arabia, China, Israel work; Mexico and the U.K., not so much).
But while Trump rode the politics of discontent to presidential victory, it's the politics of business that continues to propel his political agenda forward.
If not for the tax deal struck at the end of last year, Trump and his fellow Republicans would have zero legislative victories to their name. It's the folks who gather at events like Davos, the "global elite," that were the prime beneficiaries of those tax cuts, a fact that has yet to dent Trump's popularity back home. Trump may be whipping up the base at campaign rallies with populist red meat, but it's the check-writers that impress and inspire him.
Here's another reason why Trump will go to Davos: That's where the cameras are. Why would this president choose to skip out on that?
This is the man who, before he was president, would regularly call reporters, not because he thought they were covering him unfairly, but because he thought they weren't covering him enough.
This is a man who had a fake Time magazine cover photo of himself hung in his golf club for the world to see, with little concern that it was obviously fabricated.
This is a man who has shown time and again the utmost concern about his personal image and the dimmest awareness of the substance of the actual policies he champions. Without Bannon to remind him of the rallies, the president is off to the Alps.
The real question isn't why Trump's going; it's whether the trip will pay off for him and his team.
At the very least, Davos will give his political team (a U.S. delegation led by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin) much-needed exposure to some of the world's preeminent leaders and politicians, many of whom were put off by Trump's anti-globalist campaign rhetoric.
With the White House in "win-now" mode, the value of building relationships with the people that move global business forward seems obvious.
For Trump himself, Davos is a dicier proposition. One year into his presidency, his popularity remains below 40%, and much of that support comes from a political base that's more interested in upending establishment politics for good (no matter the cost) than in trying to fix Washington for the benefit of all.
Among attendees, Trump's popularity probably stands at about 5%, and a well-delivered speech won't change that. And that's assuming Trump can avoid launching a damaging tweet -- the high-level constellation of well-connected influencers at Davos will be happy to let everyone know exactly how they feel about the latest incendiary missive.
Of course, Trump's base won't care. As for Trump himself, he'll explain any controversy away as another wave of fake news.
The worst thing that can happen to Trump at Davos? Everyone simply ignores him. The opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference. If Trump leaves Davos feeling ignored -- watch out.