Early progress toward an agreement aimed at ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons has suddenly raised an idea that thrills many Republicans as much as it horrifies many Democrats: a Nobel Peace Prize for President Trump.
“No-bel! No-bel! No-bel!” an appreciative crowd chanted in Michigan over the weekend, as Trump spoke of the possibility that he could help broker peace between North Korea and South Korea and an end to the nuclear threat hanging over the United States and its allies.
“That’s very nice, thank you. That’s very nice,” Trump replied, smiling at the thought. “Nobel!” he then exclaimed with a chuckle, appearing to acknowledge the improbability. “I just want to get the job done.”
Nearly nine years after President Barack Obama was awarded the prize, a growing chorus of Trump boosters argue that the current president should receive it, as well — in his case, for efforts to contain North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and woo him into diplomatic talks.
But even the prospect of a Nobel Prize for Trump has set off a fierce partisan debate over whether such an honor is deserved so early in negotiations — especially given North Korea’s long history of dangling promises regarding its nuclear capability upon which it later fails to deliver.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in — who has gone out of his way to flatter Trump and credit him for helping to lay the groundwork for a potential diplomatic breakthrough — added to the debate Monday by responding to a suggestion that Moon should receive the peace prize.
“President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize,” Moon replied, according to local news outlets. “The only thing we need is peace.”
That goal, however, may still be far away. Negotiations with North Korea have a long history of failure, as the secretive communist country steadily progressed toward a nuclear arsenal that many say Kim will never give up.
But Trump appears to delight in the prospect that he could collect the holy grail of statesmanship — and do it for fostering peace with a country he threatened months ago to “totally destroy.”
Trump was asked about Nobel prospects during a White House event Tuesday. He replied only that it was gracious of Moon to have suggested him as a laureate. Trump added that the date and time for his summit meeting will be announced soon.
Trump plans to meet directly with Kim in the coming weeks, following Friday’s historic meeting between the North Korean and South Korean leaders and a pledge of denuclearization. The leaders also said they will work to officially end the Korean War after nearly 7o years of armed standoff, an effort Trump says carries “my blessing.”
“The United States has never been closer to potentially having something happen with respect to the Korean Peninsula that can get rid of the nuclear weapons, can create so many good things, so many positive things, and peace and safety for the world,” Trump said Monday at the White House.
“So we’ll see what happens,” he said. “You know, I often say, ‘Who knows?’ ”
The mere mention of Trump — the man who dubbed Kim “Little Rocket Man,” boasted about his larger nuclear button and promised to unleash on North Korea “fire and fury like the world has never seen” — as a Nobel peacemaker may seem, to many, incongruous.
But Republican strategist Rory Cooper, a managing director at Purple Strategies, said it’s important “to separate tactics from outcomes.”
“Part of the dilemma for people who don’t like President Trump’s approach to being the president is to try and judge him based on outcome alone,” he said. “It’s very difficult on something like Korea, because it’s going to be such a long time before we know what the outcome is.”
For a president who prides himself on his brash, confrontational style of international relations, the idea that he might succeed where conventional diplomacy had failed clearly seems appealing.
There is also the matter of upstaging Obama. Trump, who for years peddled the falsehood that Obama was not born in Hawaii, has fixated on his predecessor as a foil and has repeatedly sought to reverse his foreign policy undertakings.
Obama’s critics, and even some of his supporters, protested in 2009 that he hadn’t yet done anything to merit the Nobel Prize — no Camp David-style peace negotiations, no Rose Garden handshakes between former enemies. Obama himself said that he did not “feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize.”
The annual award from the Norwegian Nobel Committee goes to a person “who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
The prize was endowed by Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite. Obama was the third sitting U.S. president honored. If Trump were to follow, the earliest he could be considered is 2019. The cutoff for consideration this year was Feb. 1.
“If the Nobel Peace Prize means anything, it should be given to a leader that actually brings peace to the world,” said Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), who first proposed Trump as a potential laureate in March, when Trump abruptly agreed to direct talks with Kim.
“Barack Obama got a Nobel Peace Prize for little more than running a glamorous campaign for president,” Messer said in an interview. “I think developments in North Korea that have already occurred under President Trump far exceed anything during the Obama presidency.”
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said last week that Trump deserves the Nobel if he pulls off peace between the Koreas. He expanded on that thought on Fox News on Sunday with a joke about the optics.
“I want to be there. It may be the first time the Nobel Peace Prize was given and there was mass casualties because I think a lot of liberals would kill themselves if they did that,” Graham said.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who supports Trump’s decision to meet with North Korea’s leader, noted that a resulting deal could allow Trump to outshine his predecessor.
“That would really be a real Nobel Peace Prize, not like the fake one we gave to the last president,” Paul said last week in an interview. “That would be a real Nobel Peace Prize if we got a real, meaningful peace with North Korea.”
Korea analyst Robert E. Kelly of Pusan National University in South Korea wrote on Twitter that both Kim and Moon are using Trump’s ego to their advantage.
“It’s also pretty clever to pitch Trump’s responsibility for 2018’s detente before the Trump-Kim summit to encourage Trump to a) have the summit at all, and b) be flexible during it,” Kelly wrote.
“Trump wants acclamation above all. If he think he’ll get a Nobel, maybe he’ll make more concessions than hawks like Bolton around him” would recommend, he added. John Bolton recently joined the administration as national security adviser.
Christopher R. Hill, a former senior diplomat who led denuclearization talks with North Korea at the end of the George W. Bush administration, joked that Trump’s internal challenges are daunting. Alongside the high hurdle of any deal with North Korea, he is seeking peace while advised by Bolton.
“On the Nobel, if the president can work with John Bolton, he will have earned it,” Hill quipped.
Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University, suggested the talk is little more than a Republican pipe dream.
“I don’t think the chemistry is right at this moment for the word ‘Nobel’ to be put anywhere near Trump’s name. But right now, the screaming of ‘Nobel’ was like ‘Lock her up’ during the campaign,” Brinkley said, referring to chants aimed at Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. “It’s like something you get at a big-time wrestling rally or a kind of mob chant. I don’t think anybody takes it seriously.”
Trump did not mention any awards Monday, when he took a question about North Korea developments at the White House. He said he is confident the planned summit will happen, although Bolton said Sunday that it might not.
Trump also said he is intrigued by the notion of holding the summit at the demilitarized zone between the Koreas, a location his aides earlier had ruled out as a giveaway to Kim.
In Trump fashion, he was thinking about the staging.
“There’s something that I like about it, because you’re there — you’re actually there,” Trump said. “Where if things work out, there’s a great celebration to be had on the site.”
Kim and Moon met last week at the border for a historic and heavily televised summit. Trump’s meeting is planned for late May or early June.
Moon came to office last year with a platform of seeking better ties with North Korea while keeping friendly relations with Washington. He has credited Trump with helping to foster inter-Korean rapprochement with his support for outreach to North Korea at the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.
The history of the award suggests that all three leaders — Kim, Moon and Trump — might be honored if they do broker peace.
At his campaign-style rally Saturday in Washington, Mich., Trump addressed what he suggested is the resistance of critics and the news media to give him credit where due.
He said he had just heard “one of the fake-news groups” question what Trump “had to do with it.” Trump had an answer.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “Like, how about everything?”
Mike DeBonis and David Nakamura contributed to this report.