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If Trump Returns

What would a second Donald Trump presidency mean for US foreign policy and the world? While the man himself is unpredictable, his first term and his behavior since losing re-election in 2020 offer plenty of clues, none of which will be comforting to America's allies.

CAMBRIDGE – As the 2024 US presidential primary campaign season begins, the most likely final contest is a rematch between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Judging by the electoral map in 2020, Biden would be well-placed to win. But American politics is unpredictable, and any number of health, legal, or economic surprises could change the outlook. Hence, many foreign friends have been asking me what would happen to US foreign policy if Trump were to return to the White House.

The question is complicated by the fact that Trump himself is unpredictable. The presidency was his first political office, and his background translated into a highly unconventional political style. His success as a reality-television star meant that he was always focused on keeping the camera’s attention – often with statements that were more outrageous than true, and by breaking conventional norms of behavior.

Trump also intuited that he could mobilize discontent by decrying the uneven economic effects of global trade and stoking resentment over immigration and cultural change, particularly among older white males without a college education. With a constant drip of populist, protectionist, and nationalistic statements, he earned himself equally constant media coverage.