Welcome to Cornwall, Mr Biden. Well, actually, to Suffolk. Mildenhall, near Ipswich, to be precise. A little piece of wire-fenced middle America, complete with American Forces’ standard housing, food markets selling American products, American-style restaurants, and many of the inhabitants driving about in those wonderful American gas-guzzling cars. For this is US Air Force base Mildenhall (pronounced “Mine’all” to confuse outsiders) and one of USAF’s last big operational bases in Europe.
Mr Biden may have been confused by this gentle introduction to the weird and wacky ways of the Brits – until he discovered he was still effectively in the USA. Indeed, he must have been less than amused when he discovered that he had flown over his ultimate destination more than an hour before, and had to make his way back west. For Joe was, of course, going to the G7 conference in the pretty fishing village, or more accurately, over-crowded and expensive posh tourist trap, that is St Ives, in the far west of Cornwall. The G7 is one of those talking shops that “world leaders” love almost as much as the climate-change campaigners who camped at the gates of the conference centre (the Carbis Bay Hotel, if you are wondering where to walk in the footsteps of the great, or at least, sleep in their beds). Jaw-jaw it was, but maybe no harm in that, and at least this group (and a few observer countries also invited along) include the world’s leading democracies. And there was no fighting and all the stereotypes were nicely engaged – Joe and Jill being charming, Emmanuel being outrageously pushy, Boris being unkempt, Young Trudeau looking ever more hippyish (so like his mother), and so on. On the agenda was climate change (hopefully, nobody made fun of Joe for overflying his destination by 400 miles in Air Force One), and global capitalism and how to tax it. Not on the agenda was M. Macron’s surprising belief that Northern Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom (just wait until Boris visits Corsica) and Ms Merkel’s surprising friendliness to her British hosts (or maybe she was just being polite, pre-retirement). And out of left field came the suggestion that the next Secretary-General of NATO should be a Mrs Theresa May. That’s an obvious fit; look at her stunning record in her previous job.
But there was something missing in the Cornish mist, among all the smiles and hugging and laughter – no, we don’t mean the masks and social distancing, seemingly abandoned by the leaders of the free world who are presumably immune to bugs and viruses. Yup, missing was that grumpy, scowling, awkward face that brought such joy to watchers of previous summits. President Donald Trump – for such he still is, in his opinion at least, and in that of a surprisingly large number of supporters - was by the seaside, but in his own personal seaside of Mar-a-Lago. Mr T has rarely left Mar-a-Lago since he arrived there in December last year to sulk and recover from …er…winning (morally) the Presidential election. He apparently plays a lot of golf, wanders around meeting those staying there, wanders into wedding and memorial services, and has a chat. Sometimes, so it is said, chats overlong and mainly about himself. But that is not all he is doing. Donald is going to run in the Presidential elections of 2024. Or at least, he is giving the appearance that that is what he intends to do, and he is preparing for the contest.
First, of course, he has to get nominated by the Republican Party. For an ex-President, that should be a walk in the park; or a walk on the sand in this particular case. At the moment it looks like it would be. The Donald has raised lots of money that he is deploying in a truly Machiavellian way (if Machiavelli had been of democratic leanings) by terrorising his opponents in the party. This is not by beaming the Trump scowl into their homes or gate-crashing local GOP cocktail parties, but by backing Republican alternates to existing (anti-Trump) elected Congresspersons and Senators. And Mr Trump is starting to reappear in public. He spoke to a Republican meeting in March in Orlando, and then to one in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago. He was received with some enthusiasm – but then hand-picked audiences tend to behave like that. But there is no doubt that the big man still has great power in the party of his adoption, and he is likely to use it more this summer.
He had a major victory a couple of weeks ago when he secured the ejection of Republican House Committee leader, Liz Cheney, from her job. The methodology was simple: the ex-President letting it be known that any Republican up for election to Congress in 2022 will face a Trump-funded opponent if they are not publicly, devoutly, pro-Trump. The Congress GOP folks, including their leader Kevin McCarthy looking sheepish, duly chucked her out. That warning scalping is indeed some scalp; Ms Cheney is the daughter of G.W. Bush’s vice-president Dick Cheney, well connected at senior levels of the Republican Party (almost, one might say, except Liz would be grossly insulted, the Hillary Clinton of the Republicans). She is intelligent, energetic, and fun. That did not save her from Trump’s fury that she voted for both his attempted impeachments. Next: her Wyoming seat is up for re-election in 2022. Normally, a serving senior representative will be renominated automatically (and Wyoming is safe Republican territory once nominated; Mr Trump won 70% of the vote there last November). But not this time; Anthony Bouchard, a Wyoming state senator, has already said he will be standing against Ms Cheney. Guess what? He is a strong supporter of Mr Trump. Liz is not giving up. She is a feisty politician if there ever was one, and has let it be known that she is considering running for the presidential nomination for 2024.
She is not the only one. Also semi-declared is Governor Ron DeSantis, Mr Trump’s neighbour as Governor of Florida. He is young, personable, of Latino heritage, and has built up a great track record as a successful governor. He in particular resisted pressure to lock-down Florida during the Covid pandemic and has been rewarded by a lower death toll than directly comparative California and a much stronger economy (also helped by a drift of the monied from New York). Making the right noises too is Nikki Haley, a former Governor of South Carolina but more relevantly, the Trump administration’s ambassador to the United Nations. Both DeSantis and Haley are former Trump enthusiasts but it is more difficult to say what they are now; they have both criticised the former President for his bad behaviour in leaving office in such a divisive way. Oddly though, they have been spared much Trump vitriol (so far). Did you say potential stalking horses, should Mr T decide not to run? We could not possibly comment. But The Donald will be 78 by the time of the next election and whilst no doubt having the constitution of a 22-year-old, if not actually being immortal, if he did not want to run, those two are not far from his known political views.
Then there is former Vice-President Mike Pence, now very firmly deleted from his former boss’ Christmas card list, but out on an informal tour of the country and playing the moderate and nice guy card. And Mike Pompeo, recent Secretary of State; and Ted Cruz, runner-up last time and in spite of recent eccentricities and a beard (A beard? In the GOP?), still a very strong candidate.
All these are flagged here because they are former Trump supporters and can work that into a sort of appeal to the Trump-supporting part of the Republicans. Maybe not Mr Pence, but he has somewhat of a following of his own in the Christian wing of the party which tended to vote Trump whilst holding its collective nose. That is quite a powerful lobby.
There is though, another thought. Could the next GOP presidential nominee be called Trump – but not be the previous one? Is Donald preparing the way for son of Trump? Or even, daughter of Trump? Don’t rule that out yet; Ivanka in particular is experienced by virtue of working with her father. And she is voter-friendly and intelligent. If Donald can sway the nominations for the 2022 Congressional elections, and those candidates do well, not only will Joe B’s radical plans be stopped in their tracks, but Donald will increasingly be seen as the Kingmaker. Or maybe even the returning King.