There is nothing unusual about a world leader winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Four U.S. presidents have received the honor. But no world leader has campaigned for it with quite so much insistence as President Trump has.
In 2018, a reporter asked him if he felt he deserved it. “Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it,” he responded.
“I’m going to get a Nobel Prize for a lot of things — if they gave it out fairly, which they don’t,” Trump said in 2019.
“Nobel Peace, can you imagine?” he asked in September — the same month he retweeted at least 12 different messages from supporters on the topic.
Trump’s unofficial, unorthodox quest for the prize has benefited from the help of far-flung foreign allies — including an anti-immigrant Norwegian politician and an Australian law professor best known for pro-monarchy campaigns — who ensure that he is nominated time and again.
Even prominent world leaders, including South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, Britain’s Boris Johnson and former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, have found themselves dragged into the effort.
This year, the White House itself released an official statement to announce that Trump had been nominated for the 2021 prize. The World Food Program was awarded the 2020 prize on Friday.
So far, Trump’s campaign for recognition in Oslo has earned him plenty of headlines, but borne no other fruit.
Nobel trackers argue that the campaign of Trump and his supporters is doing him no favors. “Trump is so despised outside the U.S. that I cannot imagine the committee will spend any time on him at all,” Fredrik Heffermehl, a Norwegian peace activist, wrote in an email Thursday.
The U.S. presidents who have won the prize — Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama — did not make similar lobbying statements or seek the prize publicly, historians say.
Roosevelt’s nomination had been sponsored by “several American academics and several European diplomats for his efforts in mediating the end to the Russo-Japanese War,” said Stanley Wein, author of “Ambassador for Peace: How Theodore Roosevelt Won the Nobel Peace Prize."
Trump’s history of nominations
Unlike most other awards, the Nobel Peace Prize has a remarkably open system for nominations: Among the list of people who can nominate a person or group for a prize are university professors and national lawmakers. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was nominated in 1939.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee say that there were 318 candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020, of which 211 are individuals and 107 are organizations. It is not clear whether Trump was nominated this year — the deadline for nominations was Jan. 31 and the committee keeps nominees’ names secret for 50 years.
Trump’s initial entry into the nominations appears to have been unusual. Ahead of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the new U.S. president had been nominated twice, but the nominations were withdrawn after officials said they were fakes.
Trump was subsequently nominated multiple times for the prize in 2019 because of his negotiations with North Korea, according to public statements from those who nominated him. Among those who announced they had nominated him were Christian Tybring-Gjedde and Per-Willy Amundsen, two Norwegian lawmakers with the populist, anti-immigration Progress Party, and a group of 18 Republican lawmakers from the United States.
Not everyone who nominated Trump may have admitted it. In February 2019, Trump told reporters that Abe, then Japan’s prime minister, had given him “the most beautiful copy” of a letter nominating him for the prize. Abe, who sought a close relationship with Trump before retiring this year, never denied the account, instead telling lawmakers that he was “not saying it’s not true.”
Moon suggested Trump should win the Nobel for talks with North Korea, though it is not clear whether the South Korean president nominated him, while Johnson, the British prime minister, suggested in 2018 that Trump would deserve a prize if he makes peace with North Korea and Iran.
Although Trump did not win this year, there have been at least three nominations for him announced already for the 2021 prize. Tybring-Gjedde, who nominated Trump in 2018, wrote to Oslo in support of him again in September, citing the importance of a U.S.-brokered peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Well-known for anti-immigrant and anti-Islam views in Norway, Tybring-Gjedde had previously stoked controversy for comparing the hijabs worn by Muslim women to robes worn by Ku Klux Klan members.
Magnus Jacobsson, a member for the center-right Christian Democrats in Sweden’s parliament, later announced he had nominated Trump for the prize because of U.S.-led peace talks between Kosovo and Serbia.
A third nomination came shortly afterward from a group of Australian lawyers led by David Flint, an 82-year-old legal professor and monarchist campaigner whose eccentric comments have long earned him both fans and foes.
“What he has done with the Trump Doctrine is that he has decided he would no longer have America in endless wars, wars which achieve nothing but the killing of thousands of young Americans,” Flint told Sky News Australia.
An unlikely prize
Despite this praise, Trump-led negotiations in the Middle East and the Balkans have drawn some cautious reserve, with many arguing that they are small-scale and not the diplomatic breakthroughs Trump allies tout. North Korean talks have stalled since 2019, regardless of the hopes of a prize.
“If anything, peace on the Korean Peninsula is even more elusive today, given the specter of a nuclear-emboldened North Korea,” said Jean Lee, director of the Korean Center at the Wilson Center.
Trump’s poor international approval ratings further hinder his case. Although divisive figures have won the prize before — Wein noted that Roosevelt was a controversial pick in 1906, as he had a reputation as an “imperialist and lover of the glory of war” — Trump’s abrasive style is a clear disadvantage.
Heffermehl, the peace activist, has criticized the Norwegian Nobel Committee for not focusing on the original ethos of the prize, saying it should go to “champions of peace” who worked for a demilitarized “brotherhood of nations."
Though to that, he added, “I consider Trump grossly irrelevant.”
Trump will get another shot at the prize next year, though he already has a familiar rival: A British lawmaker announced last month he has nominated former U.S. vice president Joe Biden, Trump’s 2020 Democratic challenger, for the 2021 prize.