Donald Trump may have left the G7 in chaos, but the US has a bigger problem

The president is simply the manifestation of a wider malaise in the Republican Party. 

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A picture’s worth a thousand words: a single snap from Angela Merkel’s Instagram looks likely to define this week’s G7 and indeed the present moment in global politics, long after everything else faded.

 

A post shared by Angela Merkel (@bundeskanzlerin) on

There’s Merkel herself, of course, looking pained at the heart of the image. Her Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, arms folded, who must surely know that his career is in its dying days thanks to the ongoing accusations of cronyism, looking every inch like a man who has given up the fight. There's Emmanuel Macron, central, but somehow peripheral. And then there's Theresa May, the distinctive top of her head visible but her facial expression and her true intentions hidden from us.

And, of course, there’s Donald Trump, arms folded, smirking either through stubbornness, obliviousness or a combination of the two. The American president has left the G7 in chaos after refusing to sign even a watered-down communique as to the group's intentions and vowing to continue his tariffs against the United State's traditional allies of the EU, Canada, Japan and Mexico. The question now is whether his one-on-one with Kim Jong Un will go any better or if Trump will be the star of two failed summits in two weeks.

But the biggest story isn't anything Trump has done or tweeted: it's the silence from the Republican Party. Compare the ongoing pressure being put on Theresa May from all corners of the Conservative Party to opt for this flavour of Brexit or that spending commitment, the calls for an inquiry into Shinzo Abe's conduct just months after his landslide re-election by members of the LDP, and the pressure on Angela Merkel from within the CDU-CSU for winning a fourth term by a less emphatic margin than expected to the GOP's reaction to their president's triggering of a global trade war and his undermining of the rules-based international order and you see the real problem in American and by extension global politics today.

Don’t forget that Trump is unpopular – he underperformed Republicans across the country in 2016 and he is a drag anchor on their hopes in the Congressional elections in November. He could still be the beneficiary of a strong economy and having a “R” next to his name at the next presidential election but Republican senators could rein in his excesses on trade if they wanted to.

The real problem for the rest of the G7 is that Trump is the manifestation of a wider malaise in one of the United States' governing parties: and that even if the Trump nightmare comes to an early end in 2020, the ongoing transformation of the Republican Party, and the implications of that on the global order, has no end in sight even should the Democrats retake power in 2020.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.