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US politics

Why Trump’s star may be rising

Kept off balance: Kim Jong-un with Trump. API/Gamma-Rapho/Getty

Many liberals seem to think the Ukraine crisis will mark “the end of Donald Trump”, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. Their logic is that his “past flirtations with the Kremlin” will be electoral poison. But my suspicion is that the opposite is true. “Yes, Trump flattered foreign strongmen. But he also threatened them.” With North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, he “alternated between fatherly affection and impatience to nuke him off the planet”. Trump embodies the “madman theory” of international relations – if your enemies think you’re crazy, they’re less likely to do something that might make you lash out.

This approach rarely works. In 1968, Richard Nixon said he “might do anything” with America’s nukes – and rather than the North Vietnamese being scared into submission, they fought on for five more years. But it does appeal to American voters, 56% of whom believe Joe Biden is “not tough enough” on Russia. Trump’s attack lines write themselves: why did Biden wait for an invasion before imposing sanctions? “Why is Trump the only US leader elected this century on whose watch Vladimir Putin has not attacked a neighbour?” It’s easy to imagine a “popular view” setting in that Biden “is too conventional a leader for an era of brutes”. Whether it’s true or not is beside the point. “What often does for a politician is not new facts but a new interpretation of existing facts.”