Capitol Dome Peeking Out From Behind the Washington Monument
Dark times ahead? The stakes are particularly high in the next presidential election. | Photo: John Brighenti | CC BY 2.0

Preparing for the Worst: A PRIF Blog Series on the US Elections in November

The presidential elections in the United States this November come with incredibly high stakes – both for US democracy and for US allies across the world. A new PRIF blog series on the consequences of the elections will address the possible fallout of a second Trump term for PRIF’s research areas and examine ways that German and European policymakers could prepare for and respond to the elections.

On November 5, 2024, voters in the United States will choose their next president. The stakes are high not just for the United States. Even before the first presidential debate in late June, the question ‘What if Trump wins?‘ loomed large in almost every foreign policy debate in Europe. After the poor performance of President Biden in the debate, the fear of a Trump return has increased in the US and in Europe. The vast majority of polls at the moment indicate that Donald Trump, at this point a convicted felon, is the clear favorite to win the election.

For Europeans, the elections come at a time in which the word “polycrisis” has already become ubiquitous. This year’s peace report by BICC, INEF, IFSH and PRIF described a “rudderless world” – pointing to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the war between Israel and Hamas, the highest number of violent conflicts in the world in over thirty years, a series of military coups in the Sahel, and the fact that 2023 was the hottest year ever recorded.

Dramatic Consequences of a Second Trump Term

A re-election of Donald Trump would have dramatic implications not only for US domestic policy and democracy. At home, among other ideas, Trump has plans for mass deportations, another Muslim ban, the prosecution of President Biden, his family, and other political opponents, critics, and journalists, the firing of tens of thousands of civil servants, and the use of the military against protesters. The July 1, 2024 Supreme Court immunity ruling called into question whether Trump would even have to fear legal repercussions for breaking the law. Democracy itself in the US is at stake in this election.

From a German and European point of view, the consequences of Donald Trump’s election would likely be devastating, too. Trump has already questioned NATO’s collective defense clause and said Russia could do “whatever the hell they want” to NATO members that do not spend enough on defense. While there are different scenarios and views on the likelihood of the US leaving NATO in the case of a Trump election, what is clear is that there is a significant number of Republicans that would support Trump no matter what. With sluggish European efforts to invest in their own defense, there is a real danger of a security vacuum and a lack of credible deterrence towards Russia, should Trump follow through on his threats.

Besides his NATO threats, Donald Trump has announced plans for a 10% tax on all imported goods, something that would significantly hurt the European Union (and US citizens) and claimed he would end the war in Ukraine “in 24 hours”.  In outlining possible scenarios for a second Trump term, ECFR researchers, among others, have highlighted that, from a European perspective, the different threats are interrelated: A Trump administration could, for example, use European dependence on the US in the realm of security to pressure Europeans into falling in line with the administration on Ukraine or China.

While the ex-president could not implement all his threats during his last term, there is less hope this time that traditional Republican politicians and officials would restrain him in a possible next term, as he plans to fill key positions with loyalists from the outset. And as the more than 900 pages of “Project 2025” by conservative policy groups demonstrate, in contrast to 2016, this time, a wide network of Trump supporters is prepared for a Trump presidency and ready to start implementing radical policies from day one. Despite efforts in European capitals and in Brussels to prepare for a second Trump administration, both German and European policymakers at this point seem far from being ready to face these scenarios.

Uncertainty over the Democratic Nominee

On the Democratic side, Joe Biden’s poor performance in the debate on June 27 escalated fears over his age and ability to run for office and govern effectively. Biden has since repeatedly asserted that he intends to stay in the race.  Yet, an increasing number of Democrats have raised the possibility of replacing him with the vice president or another Democratic nominee, for example after a “mini-primary” in the next few weeks ahead of the Democratic convention in August.

If Joe Biden suddenly managed to turn this election around and won in November or if the Democratic Party chose another nominee who then beat Trump, there would be a collective sigh of relief in Europe. However, as political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt argue, democracy in the United States will remain in crisis for the foreseeable future, even if Joe Biden or another democrat is elected. Furthermore, even in this best-case scenario from the European point of view, the US is increasingly going to focus on China and the Indo-Pacific and will have decreasing resources and less patience with Europeans. No matter the outcome of the elections, Europeans will have to invest significantly more in their own security and their own neighborhood.

PRIF Blog Series on the Consequences of the US Elections on Peace and Conflict Research Topics

As peace and conflict researchers, PRIF researchers will not be able to address the full spectrum of consequences of the next US election. What we can do, however, is think through the impact for the research areas that we work on.

What would be the consequences of a Donald Trump election, for example, for nuclear non-proliferation and arms control? What does the election mean for the Russian war against Ukraine, the Middle East conflict, or the Sahel? What would a Trump administration mean for the global effort to address climate change, for the US–China relationship and, relatedly, for the EU–China relationship?

These and other topics will be discussed in a blog series from July to November 2024 on PRIF Blog. As far as possible, the pieces will also identify steps that German and European politicians and policymakers should be taking already to prepare and point to both the opportunities for and limits of German and European policies in the context of the US election.

Sarah Brockmeier-Large

Sarah Brockmeier-Large

Sarah Brockmeier-Large ist Leiterin des Berliner Büros von PRIF sowie wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin und Doktorandin im Rahmen der Forschungsinitiative „ConTrust – Vertrauen im Konflikt“ am PRIF und der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt. Sie ist außerdem Non-Resident Fellow am Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin. // Sarah Brockmeier-Large is the head of PRIF’s Berlin Office as well as a doctoral researcher in the research initiative “ConTrust – Trust in Conflict” at PRIF and Goethe University Frankfurt. She is also a non-resident fellow at Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin. | Twitter: @sarahbrockmeier

Sarah Brockmeier-Large

Sarah Brockmeier-Large ist Leiterin des Berliner Büros von PRIF sowie wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin und Doktorandin im Rahmen der Forschungsinitiative „ConTrust – Vertrauen im Konflikt“ am PRIF und der Goethe-Universität Frankfurt. Sie ist außerdem Non-Resident Fellow am Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin. // Sarah Brockmeier-Large is the head of PRIF’s Berlin Office as well as a doctoral researcher in the research initiative “ConTrust – Trust in Conflict” at PRIF and Goethe University Frankfurt. She is also a non-resident fellow at Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin. | Twitter: @sarahbrockmeier

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