“The world is not a more stable place, in part, because there is very little predictive value attached to the presidency.”
Hours after arriving in Belgium last Friday for the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels Forum, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) talked with me about Europe’s anxiety over President Trump. Like most Americans, Europeans are struggling with how seriously to take the tweets of the president of the United States as statements of policy. Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged that we pay attention to them, but not use them as a policy bellwether.
“I certainly wouldn’t pay attention to the tweets as a guide to policy,” Murphy told me in the latest episode of “Cape Up” recorded at the Steigenberger Hotel, “but the tweets are important in and of themselves, because of the regular attacks on the pillars of participatory democracy, like the press, like law enforcement.” He went on to say that the tweets “are degrading the health of our democracy, which is a communal value of Europe and the United States.” But when it comes to divining U.S. policy, “they don’t have a lot of predictive value.”
Look no further than what happened between Trump and North Korea while we were in Brussels. After months of insulting Kim Jong Un as “Little Rocket Man,” and bellicose pronouncements of “fire and fury,” the president announced he would meet with Kim. Correction, a visiting delegation from South Korea did the honors from the White House driveway. When I asked Murphy about this turn of events, he was filled with concern.
“Listen, here’s my big worry here, what does Kim want? Kim wants a photo op with the president of the United States,” Murphy said. “He desperately wants to be seen as someone who is on the same standing as the chief executive of the most powerful country in the world.” But failure to secure a deal with Kim very well could be a disaster for Trump. Despite the president’s self-professed success as a dealmaker, Murphy pointed to his conversations with Trump about gun control in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting as a cautionary tale.
[H]e walked into the guns meeting two weeks ago, pulled me aside, in the beginning, he said “We’re gonna get this done. We’re gonna get this done.” And then in the two weeks since, he has done nothing to get a guns bill done. And so what if the same thing happens in this meeting, if he walks in with all intentionality to convince Kim to give up his nuclear weapons program, he is unsuccessful or he doesn’t do the follow through necessary to be successful, and in the end Kim has gotten his photo op, Kim has his nuclear weapons program. That’s a disaster for the United States.
Listen to the podcast to hear more of our conversation on North Korea, and also about Russia and the potential impact of Trump’s sudden decision on tariffs. Listen to Murphy discuss how his experience with the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., informs his view of the activism of the Parkland students.
“It’s a magical thing to watch them change this debate,” Murphy said. “They’re very smart to say, ‘Listen, guys. You’re the adults, we’re the kids. Fix this or we’re voting you out of office.” He added: “I know now that this is not about a moment in which both the public and the political class changes its mind. This is about political power, and we just have to accumulate more of it. And we will.”