28

According to a BBC ariticle, Trump has made comments like:

Jeremy Corbyn would be "so bad" as prime minister

Of Boris Johnson:

"[He's] the exact right guy for the times"

Is it usual for a US President to specifically endorse a UK Prime Minister during a General Election campaign?

BBC Source

  • 19
    Not unusual for Trump; he also endorsed BoJo in the Tory "primary" earlier this year. – Fizz Nov 1 '19 at 9:44
45

According to VOA, it hasn't been this blatant before, at least as actual elections go:

During his time in office, Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, weighed in on Brexit in 2016, provoking fury from the referendum's supporters for saying London would be at the "back of the queue" for a trade deal if it left the European Union, noted Ben Riley-Smith, U.S. editor of the Daily Telegraph.

"And the consensus of that was it backfired," said Joe Lockhart, who was White House press secretary under U.S. President Bill Clinton. [...]

The virtual endorsement of a candidate in a democratic election in a foreign country by a sitting U.S. president appears unprecedented in modern history.

"As far as straight-up elections, it's normally more subtle. But with Trump, nothing is subtle," Lockhart told VOA.

Riley-Smith agreed.

"There has been a long-established norm in British politics that the prime minister does not weigh in on foreign elections, and vice versa, that world leaders should not intervene in United Kingdom votes," Riley-Smith told VOA.

I'm pretty sure that compared to actual [covert] US interventions in Latin America etc., particularly during the Cold War, this pales in comparison though.

Also of note: after having left office, some US presidents have endorsed candidates in foreign elections. Obama endorsed Macron in 2017 and Trudeau this year.

| improve this answer | |
20

It's generally not done in US politics with other functional democratic countries either, not just the UK. Doing so is simply really bad statecraft.

The problem with weighing on one side in an election in is that regardless of the result, parties and the masses who support them remember that kind of political attack. In a functioning democracy, today's losing party is likely to be the next election's ruling party. The US is going to have to deal with whichever side wins, and it could be really bad for it the day that's a party who now (quite justifiably) views the US as a political enemy.

Setting your country up as the enemy of half the electorate in a foreign nation is usually not in its long-term interest. The only time that's ever going to be worth the risk is if the spurned party is already a political enemy (for example, the Sandinista party in Nicaragua).

To horribly misquote Machiavelli, foreign political parties should be "either caressed or wiped out; because they will avenge minor injuries, but cannot do so for grave ones." So assuming that invading the country and other heavy-handed interventions are off the table, it's not a good idea for the US to be taking sides in its politics.


To counter-point my own post here, I think Trump is a special case. He has a well-earned reputation for being mercurial in his political affections. I don't think anyone at this point views him as a typical US President, or a typical Republican, or feels that anything he says is necessarily indicative of any long-term US feelings or policy (or even his own long-term feelings or policy). So were Corbyn to end up winning, it probably wouldn't surprise anyone to see Trump immediately saying all kinds of nice things about the guy, and offering all kinds of support.

| improve this answer | |
  • "the enemy of half the electorate" Let us hope that voters in the UK don't view themselves as enemies (as you imply), simply because they vote differently. (Or in the US.) – jpaugh Nov 1 '19 at 19:41
  • 1
    @jpaugh - I think I have a pretty good gauge on the partisan political environment in my own (US) country. So I'll just say … I share your hope for that in the UK. – T.E.D. Nov 1 '19 at 19:52
  • @TED My limited experience (US) is that folks are either highly polarized, or avoid being engaged at all --- after all, mature/respectful discourse is hard work! :-) OTOH, with us both being so close to the "center of the universe," why should we worry? – jpaugh Nov 1 '19 at 19:59
  • 10
    @jpaugh - Joking aside though, a "political enemy" and a literal mortal enemy should (at least in a Democracy that isn't undergoing a Civil War) be two very different things. That doesn't mean it isn't important though. To posit an extreme example, if Israel were to manage to make support for their country in the US a partisan political issue, what is going to happen to them when their chosen party loses the White House for 4+ years? – T.E.D. Nov 1 '19 at 20:00
  • I think this last part is true. To be honest, it wouldn't surprise me if Trump knew almost nothing about Corbyn at all. I remember hearing the statements he made when it happened and thinking that he sounded so laughably vague that he probably wouldn't have been able to give a single coherent reason Corbyn would have been "bad for the country" had Farage been inclined to ask. – DoctorPenguin Nov 4 '19 at 15:18
0

While making comments directly is unusual, it's not unusual for US-based political advisers to advise and even run campaigns of foreign leaders. For example, James Carville, who got Bill Clinton elected, also ran Ehud Barak's 1999 campaign against Netanyahu.

This NY Times article, describing the 1999 event, stated that, on a previous occasion, Clinton "all-but-openly endorsed" Shimon Peres in 1996. The article described James Carville as a political adviser "close to Clinton". This was in 1999. Bill Clinton was President from 1993 till 2001.

Trump's communication style, in general, is very unorthodox. He tries, as much as possible, to communicate on his own. He cuts out the proverbial middle-men from his messenges. Most famously, this is observed by his tweeting his words on his own rather than through an organized or well-managed communication office.

Not sending his political advisers and making his comments on his own is in keeping with this style. It maybe unusual, but it's not unexpected.

| improve this answer | |
  • Was that political adviser still working for President Clinton (and was he still president at the time) while doing the campaigning? – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 1 '19 at 21:46
  • 1
    @JJforTransparencyandMonica Clinton was still President. It's commonly assumed that Carville was acting on Clinton's wishes in running that campaign. I am not sure if that's stated outright in the link or not. – grovkin Nov 1 '19 at 21:53
  • 2
    If it is or if you have other sources claiming that, please try to quote from them. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Nov 1 '19 at 22:03
  • 5
    If we start inferring from the career of campaign managers... Manafort served Ukraine's pro-Kremlin and anti-NATO president Yanukovych for a long time before becoming Trump's campaign manager. So we can probably jump too far in conclusions on that line of reasoning. – Fizz Nov 2 '19 at 1:59
  • 1
    @Fizz: Or not... – ShadowRanger Nov 3 '19 at 15:09
-1

This was rarely done, and was generally considered improper, until quite recently. But President Obama did it, and President Trump does it, so we may be seeing a change in what's considered usual or proper.

| improve this answer | |
  • 15
    Can you give a reference for Obama endorsing a foreign political candidate while in office? – divibisan Nov 1 '19 at 20:16
  • 2
    I don't think Obama "endorsed" a foreign candidate while in office. (He certainly has done so since leaving office.) A lot of commentary on the Israeli election of 2015 (e.g. cnn.com/2015/03/13/politics/… and jpost.com/Israel-News/…) allege that the U. S. administration was trying to influence the election. And Obama certainly endorsed the "Remain" position before the Brexit referendum in the UK, holding joint press conferences with David Cameron, and so on. – John Woolley Nov 1 '19 at 20:46
  • 1
    I would argue that Obama was simply stating a fact; under his administration, post-Brexit Britain would be back of the queue. This is quite removed from giving an opinion on a candidate's suitability. – Oscar Bravo Nov 3 '19 at 10:42
  • 2
    @OscarBravo It is not a simple fact in the sense that "the sky is blue" is a fact. In this case, the "fact" is actually a controllable variable that is made conditional on a particular outcome. It's effectively equivalent to "If the UK votes leave, I will do my best to diminish the benefits of doing so". Compare with e.g. "If candidate X wins then I will make life difficult for the UK". Both are designed to influence the outcome; neither are very far (in terms of motivation) from saying "I think Brexit is a bad idea" or "Candidate X is terrible". – JBentley Nov 3 '19 at 21:34

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .