Trump intervenes in foreign election, boosts far-right ally

The American president practically endorsed a foreign leader from the Rose Garden four days before a foreign election.
Image: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Trump and Poland's President Duda hold joint news conference at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump and Poland's President Andrzej Duda hold a joint news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House on June 12, 2019.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters file

In the United States, diplomatic protocols dictate that sitting American presidents remain neutral in foreign elections. Either Donald Trump doesn't know about such protocols, or he doesn't care.

The White House announced last week, for example, that it would welcome Polish President Andrzej Duda to the West Wing, just four days prior to national elections in Poland. Duda's electoral fate is in doubt, and it seemed Trump wanted to put his thumb on the scale.

An Associated Press report noted last week, "Since the June 24 visit was announced Wednesday, some in Poland have accused Trump of interfering in their election, noting that it is unheard-of for a U.S. leader to host a foreign politician so close to an election because it could be seen as an endorsement. 'President Trump is directly interfering in the election campaign in our country,' said Janusz Sibora, an expert on diplomacy. 'This is unacceptable. Good diplomatic custom does not allow for such visits four days before an election.'"

As the New York Times reported yesterday, the meeting, which had no official purpose, happened anyway.

Mr. Duda, who has served as Poland's president since 2015, has presided over political restrictions on Poland's judiciary, media and civil society while becoming one of Mr. Trump's preferred foreign partners. The Polish election is on Sunday, a fact Mr. Trump made no effort to gloss over.

Indeed, there was no real pretense of neutrality. "It's my honor to have a friend of mine here, President Duda of Poland, who has done an incredible job. I do believe he has an election coming up, and I do believe he'll be very successful," Trump told reporters. The Republican added, "I can say that President Duda is doing very well in Poland. He's doing a terrific job. The people of Poland think the world of him."

There's no modern precedent for anything like this: the American president practically endorsed a foreign leader from the Rose Garden four days before a foreign election.

Trump went on to praise Duda's "vigilant efforts to uphold the rule of law," even as Poland faces fierce pushback from the European Commission over officials' view that Duda is backsliding on adhering to the rule of law. As Politico reported, the European Commission "has launched four legal procedures against Poland over rule of law concerns, and triggered the so-called Article 7 disciplinary process over charges that Warsaw is breaching the bloc's fundamental values, which, if concluded, could strip the country of its EU voting rights."

Maybe Trump doesn't know that. Perhaps he doesn't know what "rule of law" means. Or maybe Trump sees Duda's far-right, autocratic tendencies, and sees a kindred spirit.

I'm happy to defer to experts on Duda's election prospects this weekend, but there's a reason U.S. diplomatic protocols are designed to prevent the kind of displays we saw at the White House yesterday: if the Polish incumbent falls short, the American president has just gone to extraordinary lengths to antagonize the next leader of an E.U. ally.

The New York Times quoted Daniel Fried, a retired career diplomat who served as the U.S. ambassador to Poland in the Clinton administration. "There is a good rule in U.S. diplomacy where you don't do that," Fried explained. "Trump doesn't much care about those things, but the reason you don't do it is because it injects the U.S. into the domestic politics of another country, and it alienates a whole bunch of people there's no reason to alienate."