Donald Trump’s 2020 Reelection Strategy: Turn China Into the New Hillary Clinton

President Trump Visits St. John's Episcopal Church

Over at the LA Times, I offered my thoughts on the recent Trump decision to get tough on China. While events in recent days have clearly overtaken Trump’s important Friday-afternoon press conference, the writing on the wall is clear: Washington intends to get tough on Beijing, making the rise of China and its aggressive posture a campaign issue.

As I explained to the Times, that means leveraging such a policy, rightly or wrongly, into blaming China for the Coronavirus, the economic damage it has caused in the U.S. and mobilizing public opinion against Beijing, but with a twist:

With the pandemic and various self-inflicted crises complicating his reelection prospects, Trump is intent on using China as a primary foil to galvanize the nationalist fervor of his supporters that propelled his 2016 campaign.

“He can try and blame China for all of his economic and financial problems with some degree of credibility and say ‘I am the man who sees the problem and can take Beijing on’,” said Harry J. Kazianis, a senior director at the conservative think tank the Center for the National Interest.

“Trump’s goal is to make China his new Hillary Clinton — a foe he can attack day after day to try and make the case of why he should be president. And, so far, China has made the mistake of giving him the talking points and actions to do it.”

LA Times, May 29, 2020

I have always said Donald Trump is most effective when he has an enemy to take on, putting him politically on the offensive day after day on social media, allowing him to dominate the news cycle. Will China truly become his new ‘Hillary Clinton’? As Donald likes to say, we’ll see what happens.

Harry J. Kazianis (@Grecianformula) is Senior Director of Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest. He also serves as Executive Editor of its publishing arm, The National Interest. Mr. Kazianis is a recognized expert on national security issues involving North & South Korea, China, the Asia-Pacific, general U.S. foreign policy and national security challenges.

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