Policy

Europe relaxes after US midterms, but fears of a 2024 Trump win run high

Associated Press/LIBKOS
Ukrainian soldiers pass by houses ruined in the Russian shelling in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/LIBKOS)

America’s allies in Europe breathed a sigh of relief as the U.S. midterm contests come to a close. U.S. allies believe slimmer margins of control between Democrats and Republicans in Congress will not jeopardize American support to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.  

From Kyiv to Berlin and Tbilisi, Georgia, fears that a larger Republican majority would move the U.S. back into the isolationist mindset of the Trump presidency were squashed. But the international community will be closely watching what a likely divided government means for President Biden’s leadership role among allies. 

But even amid European relief, a group of Republicans largely backed by former President Trump still put the fate of U.S. support to Ukraine increasingly under strain. 

The United States is the largest supplier of military and economic assistance to Ukraine, and Europeans are bracing for a potential Trump comeback after the former president teased announcing a 2024 run. 

“I think there’s kind of a bit of a relief, especially in Europe … that the march of MAGA Republicanism, Trumpism seems to have stopped in its tracks a bit,” said Matthias Matthijs, senior fellow for Europe at the Council on Foreign Relations. “That’s at least the interpretation here. That this is not a foregone conclusion that 2024 will result in some sort of isolationist presidency again.” 

Khatia Dekanoidze, an opposition lawmaker from Georgia, told The Hill that the Georgian public are “interested in who will be winning in the House and who will be running the Senate and what the balance is, what would be decided regarding Ukrainian support.” 

“Also it’s very interesting from the people’s perspective, will Trump be back? It’s a very common question,” she added.  

Yevgen Korniychuck, Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, told The Hill that Kyiv is watching closely the “minority of pro-Trump” Republicans, raising concern that “they are not really happy with support of Ukraine.” 

“But the full majority will be in support, I’m sure. This is the most important for us,” he said.  

Europeans are also paying close attention to the presidential aspirations of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has increasingly come under attacks from Trump, signaling his outsized influence in the GOP.  

“Ron DeSantis has arrived as a name in the German press,” said Peter Rough, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute with a focus on Europe.   

“[The Germans] say Ron DeSantis may be even more dangerous than Trump because he can actually implement and execute his policies, unlike DJT [Donald J. Trump]. ‘Trump but with a brain,’ they said last night on the [German] prime-time talk show I was on.” 

Europeans welcomed Biden’s focus on improving the transatlantic relationship that was made a target by Trump, who threatened to pull out of NATO, antagonized leaders in Germany and France and embraced far-right outliers like Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orbán.  

“There’s no question that folks in Europe do wonder what’s going to happen in 2024,” said Marjorie Chorlins, senior vice president for Europe at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “They do see the more hawkish, less pro-transatlantic rhetoric that came out of the last administration as a problem and that there’s a risk that’s going to come back.”  

Chorlins said that Europeans welcome closer cooperation with the U.S., and are looking to leverage the unity Biden rallied in support for Ukraine — coordinating sanctions against Moscow and pooling military and economic assistance for Kyiv — to address other aspects of the American relationship with the European Union.  

“The question is whether we can leverage the unity that we found around Ukraine and Russia, and take that energy and apply it in other ways,” she said.   

Biden, in a post-midterm-election press conference on Wednesday, said that the “vast majority” of allies are looking to cooperate when asked how other world leaders should view this moment for the U.S., with Trump teasing another presidential run. 

Biden further warned against isolationism that Trump had embraced. 

“What I find is that they want to know: Is the United States stable? Do we know what we’re about? Are we the same democracy we’ve always been?” the president said. “Because, look, the rest of the world looks to us. … If the United States tomorrow were to, quote, ‘withdraw from the world,’ a lot of things would change around the world.” 

Emily Horne, former National Security Council spokesperson and special assistant to Biden, called the midterm elections the dog that didn’t bark for European allies and partners. 

“There’s some temporary relief now, but not on the bigger question of 2024 and whether Trump or someone like him could come back and derail so much of the progress that we have been able to make together with Europe, not just on Ukraine, but on everything from getting COVID under control to preparing for future pandemics to tackling climate change,” said Horne, founder of Allegro Public Affairs. 

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) who could become the next House Speaker, raised eyebrows last month when he said Republicans would scrutinize aid to Ukraine if they have a majority, comments he has since tried to defend as oversight rather than a lack of support for Ukraine.  

Biden on Wednesday said he is optimistic that funding and bipartisan support for Ukraine would continue, adding that he would be surprised if there’s a majority of Republicans who are unwilling to help.  

Horne argued that it would be a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin if a Republican-led House puts a halt to the flow of munitions to Ukrainians. She added that while McCarthy knows the consequences of such a move, it comes down to the others in his camp. 

“The question is, can he control the actors in his caucus that care more about their Twitter sound bites than doing the right thing by both U.S. security interests in Europe and the Ukrainian people?” Horne said.  

But, she added, there is an understanding among allies that “there are individuals who get a lot of airtime who actually have very little sway over what’s in the policy that goes forward for the president’s signature.” 

Allies worry about other aspects of a Republican majority in Congress and how it could impact Biden’s overall focus on the war in Ukraine and foreign policy issues like climate and China. 

With a potential Republican majority in the House, there is a concern among Europeans that GOP-led investigations into Biden could distract him from international affairs, Matthijs said. 

“There is worry in Europe that Biden will now be distracted by a House that will make his life miserable. That all we’re going to hear about is Hunter Biden’s laptop and these kinds of fake impeachment proceedings against the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, Tony Fauci, you name it,” he said. 

But, he said that Europeans feel “slightly better” about the U.S. overall after the midterm elections. 

“It doesn’t mean much will change right away because of this election, but at least it’s a very helpful reminder, I think, to a lot of people in Europe that the U.S. is capable of self-correction when it goes too much in one direction,” he said. 

Tags 2022 midterms 2022 Midterms House 2022 midterms Senate 2024 Biden Donald Trump Europe Joe Biden NATO Ron DeSantis russia Russian war with Ukraine ukraine Vladimir Putin
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