CORNELL UNIVERSITY MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
Feb. 6, 2019
Trump’s dovish North Korea posture unlikely to affect his ratings
North Korea dominated the foreign policy section of Trump’s address to the nation, on Tuesday, with the announcement of a new summit with Kim Jong Un in Vietnam at the end of the month.
Sarah Kreps, professor of government at Cornell University, is an expert on international conflict. Her recent research focuses on how matters of foreign policy affect Trump’s approval rating. She says that compared to a Democrat, Trump faces less political risk as he negotiates with North Korea.
“Trump’s State of the Union assertion that we would be in a war with North Korea had he not been elected is sheer speculation unmoored from reality. Trump campaigned and started his presidency on what Hillary Clinton rightfully referred to as ‘cavalier’ threats toward North Korea.
“Nonetheless, anyone who claims an interest in avoiding nuclear war should commend his overtures to North Korea. We are better off than a year ago when we seemed to be playing a game of brinksmanship with them. My research — with Cornell colleagues Elizabeth Sanders and Kenneth Schultz — does show that Trump may have some partisan advantages when it comes to these types of negotiations and agreements.
“When Democrats try to make a deal, Republicans have incentives to attack it as a sign of weakness. The attack may work because it’s consistent with the party brand as being more dovish. When a Republican makes a deal, most fellow Republicans will back him for partisan reasons, and Democrats can criticize but the charge of being too soft is unlikely to stick.
“This does not guarantee success, and few people think that North Korea will actually denuclearize because its nuclear weapons are the only international leverage it has, but Trump is less vulnerable — compared to a Democrat — to the political risks of negotiating with Kim.”
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