Business & Lobbying

Trump angst pours in from overseas governments

Lobbyists in Washington say they are being flooded with questions and concerns from foreign governments about the rise of Donald Trump.

Officials around the globe are closely following the U.S. presidential race, to the point where some have asked their American lobbyists to explain, in great detail, what a contested GOP convention would look like.

{mosads}The questions about Trump are “almost all-consuming,” said Richard Mintz, the managing director of Washington-based firm The Harbour Group, whose client list includes the governments of Georgia and the United Arab Emirates.

After a recent trip to London, Abu Dhabi and Beijing, “it’s fair to say that all anyone wants to talk about is the U.S. presidential election,” Mintz added. “People are confused and perplexed.” 

The Hill conducted interviews with more than a half-dozen lobbyists, many of whom said they are grappling with how to explain Trump and his unusual foreign policy views to clients who have a lot riding on their relationship with the United States.

“We’re in uncharted territory here,” said one lobbyist with foreign government clients who asked not to be identified. 

“The questions coming from the international community are not different than the things, categorically, we’re asking ourselves,” said Nathan Daschle, the president and chief operating officer of the Daschle Group, a firm run by his father, former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

“There’s an added level of bafflement because this is not the United States that they’ve been living with for so long,” Daschle said. “This is not the image the United States has been projecting.”

The questions about Trump often concern his foreign policy positions.

The businessman has boasted about keeping his options open on many crucial foreign policy questions, including on trade, troop-sharing agreements and the U.S. posture toward China. 

“I don’t want to say what I’d do because, again, we need unpredictability,” Trump told The New York Times in an interview published over the weekend.

A second lobbyist who represents countries in Latin America, Asia and the Muslim world said answers like that have made Trump a “wild card” for leaders around the world.

“Nobody knows whether he believes anything of what he says because he’s changed his position so many times,” the lobbyist said.

Some of Trump’s comments — especially about Mexico, Muslims and trade with countries such as Japan and China — have also angered foreign leaders.

A third lobbyist for governments in Asia said part of his job has been telling countries how to react to some of Trump’s controversial remarks.

“If you come out and blast Donald Trump — for the people who are going to vote for Donald Trump, that could make them like him more,” the lobbyist, who also represents foreign companies with a large presence in the U.S., said he has told foreign leaders.

Trump’s dominance in the presidential race has created a deep rift in the Republican Party, with some fighting to deny him the 1,237 delegates he would need to clinch the nomination at the GOP convention in July. 

The speculation that Trump could be denied the nomination at a brokered convention has spread far outside of Washington.

The third lobbyist recalled getting an urgent-sounding text message recently from a sovereign government client overseas.

“Can you talk?” the text read. 

After the text, the lobbyist said he spent hours talking with the client about delegate counts, the Electoral College and GOP convention rules.

Representing foreign governments is a lucrative niche industry in Washington. Consultants, public relations advisers and lobbyists are hired to boost diplomatic efforts, promote tourism and serve as a megaphone for foreign clients.

Working for overseas clients requires one to register with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a World War II-era law enacted to ensure that Nazis were not trying to influence U.S. policy.

Multiple FARA lobbyists said they have had trouble framing the implications of a Trump presidency for their overseas clients. The billionaire’s lack of a track record in politics and exceedingly tight-knit circle makes it almost impossible to gather information about the businessman’s likely moves, they said.

“It’s starting to get more real,” said Daschle, who said the international community is beginning to pay more attention to Trump’s inner circle. “His knowledge might be thin, but does he have people around him who know what they’re doing?”

At least one lobbyist told The Hill that his firm is preparing to write off a Trump White House, should he win the presidency, to focus their advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill.

“A lot of what he says he’s going to do requires cooperation from Congress,” said a fourth lobbyist, whose firm represents a country in Eastern Europe. “You say to people who might be worried: ‘If we have policy concerns about what he’s going to do, then let’s go to Congress.’ ”

Some lobbyists say they are trying to reassure foreign clients that Trump’s views are not reflective of popular opinion in the United States. But at the same time, they acknowledge that the businessman’s ascent is unlike anything they’ve ever seen.

“When advising foreign diplomats, you have to tell the truth: Despite the contentious attitudes in Washington, nobody saw this campaign playing out the way it is,” said the first lobbyist, who had asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the record.

“Mr. Trump is tapping into what has become the core Republican base, and it’s not pretty,” the lobbyist added. “However, the same tactics he is using to gain steam might very well be his undoing in a general election.”

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