Trump plans America First 'vindication tour' in Davos

President is looking for a 'victory lap'

By KEVIN LIPTAK AND ABBY PHILLIP, CNN
Headline Goes Here Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Donald Trump's announced trip to an annual gathering of the rich and powerful in Davos, Switzerland, seemed to some a strange match: the populist President meeting the internationalist elite.

But people involved in planning the trip say Trump is enthusiastic about taking his unapologetic brand of economic nationalism to the World Economic Forum, where his presidency has been mostly met with turned up noses. Instead of adjusting his message for the free trade-and-multinationalism-loving crowd, he'll reinforce the very views that some at Davos find worrying.

"It's a vindication tour," one person familiar with Trump's thinking said, describing the President as looking for a "victory lap" on the world stage after he and fellow Republicans successfully slashed the corporate tax rate. He's also likely to tout record-breaking markets and solid job growth as evidence his economic policies are working.

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said it was Trump's decision to travel to Davos and that his message there would be the same one he's offered for the past year.

"This is very much an America First agenda," she said.

Unclear agenda

It's not yet clear what exactly Trump's time in the Swiss Alps will look like, but officials expect at least one formal speech to the gathering, which they say will touch on the America First economic themes he's touted elsewhere in the world over the past year.

Trump was convinced by aides that Davos would prove a more forgiving venue than the G-7 or G-20 summits -- where he felt cornered at times by his global counterparts --- in which to tout his record. At Davos, he'll have the microphone to himself, at least for some period of time, and won't be forced to sit through meetings where other leaders criticize his positions.

Aides likened the President's message in Davos, where the conference will run January 23-26, to the one he delivered in November at a CEO summit in the Vietnamese resort city Da Nang. There, Trump offered a hard-line economic message and accused his predecessors of adopting trade policies that harm American workers.

Even as Trump was delivering that speech, however, the consequences of his protectionism were already becoming apparent. Other Pacific leaders announced a revamped Trans-Pacific Partnership -- the landmark trade accord negotiated by the Obama administration but scrapped by Trump -- that didn't included the United States.

That dynamic will likely be at play again in Switzerland, though Trump's aides and allies have expressed little concern that countries are taking steps to work around the US.

"I think the decision to go was a brilliant decision. He'll stand up on that world stage and talk about why the American economy is growing more rapidly with even more to come," said Larry Kudlow, a conservative economist and commentator who has advised Trump.

As the for attendees, a rarefied group of business leaders, financiers and world leaders, Kudlow believes Trump's ability to get tax reform passed and roll back regulations will have earned him a warm welcome.

"He's compiled a very good record this year," he added. "I think they'll receive him quite well."

'An odd decision'

At least one Trump ally, however, was skeptical the Davos trip could amount to a success.

"It was an odd decision to me. Those are 500 of the intellectual bureaucratic elite. They're not Trump supporters," said Stephen Moore, the conservative economist who advised Trump during the campaign.

Moore noted that Trump would be speaking before a group that disdains his populist politics.

"I was disappointed that he's going to Davos because I think it's a lot of self-important people who have a totally different view of the world than he does," he added.

One of the open questions is whether Trump will participate in the sideline hobnobbing where the real business of Davos is conducted. That includes evening parties in hotels and chalets, where the CEOs of the world's largest companies -- including China's Alibaba, Google parent Alphabet and Microsoft -- mix and mingle with heads of state, media power players and the financial elite.

Trump's short-lived communications director Anthony Scaramucci has been known to host extravagant wine tasting parties at the mountainside summit. He represented the administration at last year's World Economic Forum.

Officials said they doubted that Trump, a homebody who rarely dines out, would find the party scene appealing. Instead, his stop at the forum is likely to be short. It's not yet clear who will travel with him, though Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and National Economic Council Chairman Gary Cohn appeared to be likely candidates.

Sanders said this week that some members of the administration would remain at the forum "for a more extended period of time than the President."

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