By Emel Akan
A major news item from across the Atlantic stole the spotlight at this year’s annual summit in Davos, Switzerland, where the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people gathered to address global challenges.
Former President Donald Trump’s record-setting victory in Iowa on Jan. 15 became the talk of the town at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Alpine ski village. According to some observers, the question of his potential return to the White House dominated conversations at dinners and parties throughout the summit, overshadowing even the most pressing global issues.
Thousands of global elites, including CEOs, bankers, and policymakers, gathered in Davos for the 54th annual WEF meeting from January 15 to 19. Among the attendees, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde was openly critical of the former president.
“We are all concerned about it because the United States is the largest economy, the largest defense country in the world, and has been a beacon of democracy, with all its upside and downside,” she said when asked about the upcoming U.S. election during an interview with Bloomberg on Jan. 17.
“We have to be extremely attentive.”
Ms. Lagarde, who served as the former head of the International Monetary Fund, described President Trump as a clear “threat” to Europe during a recent interview with France 2, because of his stance on tariffs, NATO, and climate change.
On the last day of the summit, she suggested that the most effective strategy for Europe to prepare for a possible Trump return is to go on the offensive.
“The best defense, if that’s the way we want to look at it, is attack,” she said during a panel discussion on Jan. 19. “To attack properly, you need to be strong at home. So being strong means having a strong, deep market, having a real single market.”
Philipp Hildebrand, former head of the Swiss central bank and current vice chairman of BlackRock, expressed similar views on the upcoming U.S. election.
“You know, we’ve been there before; we survived it, so we’ll see what it means,” Mr. Hildebrand told Bloomberg in Davos. “Certainly, from a European perspective, from a kind of globalist, Atlanticist perspective, it’s of course a great concern.”
Gordon Brown, former prime minister of the UK, expressed similar sentiments.
“I’m worried about the threat of a Trump presidency,” he told CNBC at the Swiss ski resort on Jan. 17.
“He says he could solve the Ukraine–Russia problem in a day. But if the Ukraine–Russia problem is solved at the expense of Ukraine and is seen as a victory for Putin, then the blow to European self-confidence will be absolutely massive,” he said.
(L–R) Bloomberg television journalist Francine Lacqua, Singapore President Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan, president of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde, co-chairman of The Carlyle Group David Rubenstein, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner, and World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala attend a session on the closing day of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, on Jan. 19, 2024. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)
Concerns about the former president’s possible return to the White House extended beyond Davos.
Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister and a current member of the European Parliament, voiced similar concerns following President Trump’s Iowa victory.
“Republicans sending a message to the world: democracy fighting for survival… Window closing for Europe too,” he wrote in an X post on Jan. 16.
Richard Dearlove, the former head of the UK’s secret intelligence service, recently said that the re-election of President Trump could present a “political threat” to the UK and NATO.
“You have to add a political threat, which I am worried about, which is Trump’s re-election … which I think, for the UK’s national security, is problematic,” he told Sky News on Jan. 14. “Because if Trump, as it were, acts hastily and damages the Atlantic alliance, that is a big deal for the UK.”
President Trump frequently voiced his concerns about NATO’s heavy dependence on the United States and urged member nations to increase their contributions to defense spending.
Brian Seitchik, a Republican strategist and former Trump campaign staff member, believes that statements made by “global elites” at the Davos meeting could benefit the former president’s campaign.
“Like it or not, they’re not Trump fans. They never have been, and they never will be,” Mr. Seitchik told The Epoch Times.
“People talking about climate change and preaching their worldview of climate change while taking private planes to an exclusive European city is not really what key swing voters in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona are particularly focused on these days,” he said.
Members of the U.S. Marine Corps during the start of a defense exercise near Ostersund, Sweden, on April 17, 2023 . (Pontus Lundahl/TT Nyhetsbyran/AFP via Getty Images)
Jamie Dimon Praises Trump
During a rather unexpected moment in Davos, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan, stirred the pot by giving a nod to former President Trump’s policies and urging Democrats to reconsider their approach to “MAGA” Republicans.
“I wish the Democrats would think a little more carefully when they talk about MAGA,” he said on Jan. 17 during an interview with CNBC in Davos.
“I think this negative talk about MAGA is going to hurt Biden’s election campaign.”
Mr. Dimon’s comments came two days after the former president outperformed his GOP rivals in the Iowa caucuses.
“Take a step back, be honest. He was kind of right about NATO and kind of right on immigration. He grew the economy quite well. Trade and tax reform worked. He was right about some of China,” Mr. Dimon said.
“He wasn’t wrong about some of these critical issues, and that’s why they voted for him.”
In November 2023, Mr. Dimon, who donates primarily to the Democratic Party, urged everyone, including Democrats, to support Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley for the GOP nomination, claiming she would be a stronger alternative to the former president.
Mike O’Sullivan, former chief investment officer at Credit Suisse, believes that European governments and corporate leaders are “rightly worried” about a second Trump term.
Mr. O’Sullivan served as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Council on the New Economy. He is also the author of “The Levelling: What’s Next After Globalization,” a book that discusses how globalization has come to an end and is giving way to a new values-driven global order.
“Trump has a higher chance of becoming president than he did at the same time in his first campaign,” Mr. O’Sullivan told The Epoch Times in an email.
“Governments and companies are rightly worried about how he could undermine the rule of law, democracy, and America’s unique financial status,” he said.
However, the mood among U.S. business leaders who attended the forum was very different; some privately dismissed the concerns raised by Europeans.
“He’s going to win the presidency,” one U.S. bank CEO told CNBC. “Many of his policies were right.”
Another prominent business leader privately stated that Europeans lack an understanding of the checks and balances built into the United States government.
“It’s right to be cautious, but it won’t be the end of the world,” he said.
Trump’s Davos Speech
During his term, President Trump traveled to Davos twice, in 2018 and 2020, to attend the WEF meetings. In his keynote address in 2020, he touted his protectionist trade policies and America’s position as the world’s largest oil and gas producer.
President Donald Trump leaves the Congress Center during the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, on Jan. 21, 2020. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)
He also openly expressed his skepticism toward climate change, taking aim at what he called “alarmists” and “radical socialists.”
“We must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse. They are the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune-tellers,” President Trump said.
He went on to highlight historical examples of false predictions, such as the overpopulation crisis in the 1960s, mass starvation in the 1970s, and the forecasted end of oil in the 1990s. He characterized these incorrect prophecies as the work of “alarmists” who relentlessly chase power.
“These alarmists always demand the same thing: absolute power to dominate, transform, and control every aspect of our lives,” he said. “We will never let radical socialists destroy our economy, wreck our country, or eradicate our liberty.”
While his speech met with mixed reactions, it particularly enraged some of the elite, most notably Klaus Schwab, the forum’s founder and executive chairman.
WEF Under Fire
Mr. Schwab, a Swiss-German economist and professor, established the WEF in 1971 with the aim of advancing stakeholder capitalism, which advocates that corporations should serve the interests of all their stakeholders rather than solely focusing on shareholders.
Over the years, the WEF has evolved into a globally recognized forum for dialogue. It focuses on issues it says are pressing global challenges—such as the climate crisis, poverty, wealth inequality, food security, and pandemics—and brings together the public and private sectors.
In recent years, however, the forum has increasingly faced criticism, with questions raised regarding the usefulness of its debates in resolving the struggles of regular people.
While the climate crisis is a prominent topic at Davos, attendees’ use of private jets has drawn accusations of hypocrisy. Furthermore, inviting individuals with questionable human rights records has raised concerns about the forum’s credibility.
Ford O’Connell, a political analyst and a Republican strategist, said that global elites in Davos don’t care about the hardships experienced by American workers.
Argentina’s President Javier Milei is surrounded by media after delivering a speech at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos on Jan. 17, 2024. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)
“The disinterest of most global elites in American prosperity or the struggles of the working class is evident,” he told The Epoch Times.
“Their opinions hold little relevance to everyday Americans living paycheck to paycheck, and they will have minimal influence on U.S. voters in the upcoming 2024 presidential election.”
Argentina’s President Javier Milei chose to fly commercial to Davos for the summit, where he openly criticized the event’s “socialist” agenda in his keynote address.
“Today, I’m here to tell you that the Western world is in danger. And it is in danger because those who are supposed to have to defend the values of the West are co-opted by a vision of the world that inexorably leads to socialism and thereby to poverty,” the newly elected libertarian president told the Davos crowd on Jan. 17.
Kevin Roberts, president of Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank, also criticized the forum’s agenda during a panel discussion in Davos on Jan. 18 and called on future Republican administrations to reject all WEF proposals.
“The very reason that I’m here at Davos is to explain to many people in this room and who are watching, with all due respect, nothing personal, but that you’re part of the problem,” he said.
Mr Roberts defended the former U.S. president and argued that global elites have misinformed the average person on issues such as illegal immigration, the climate crisis, and public safety.
The Jan. 15 Iowa Republican caucus results were hardly unexpected but still drew considerable attention both in the United States and globally.
Supporters of former President Donald Trump celebrate at a watch party during the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 15, 2024. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)
“Trump achieved a historic and decisive victory in the Iowa caucuses, breaking records for the largest margin of victory by a Republican candidate,” Mr. O’Connell said. “The race was called just 31 minutes after voting began, emphasizing the strength of his triumph.”
Former Vice President Al Gore, however, cautioned against overemphasizing the importance of the Iowa vote. Mr. Gore, who narrowly missed the presidency in 2000, emphasized the potential for surprises in elections.
“There have been so many examples—last time in 2016, Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucus, and then it mattered not a whit. We’ve seen others win the Iowa caucus on the Republican side and then disappear,” he told Bloomberg in Davos.
“Something tells me this may be a year of significant surprises. I hope it’s the case because I don’t want to see him re-nominated and re-elected,” Mr. Gore said.
Mr. Seitchik predicts that if President Trump secures a victory in New Hampshire on Jan. 23, regardless of the margin, it will mark a decisive turning point.
Given the differences in voter demographics between New Hampshire and Iowa, winning both critical states “would solidify the reality that he has complete control of the Republican Party,” he said.