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Davos Diplomacy Scene Not Exactly a Natural Fit for Trump

Sitting presidents typically pass on the event, as known for its flashy parties and celebrity sightings as its policy powwows and international deal-making

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    Davos Diplomacy Scene Not Exactly a Natural Fit for Trump
    Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla
    In this January 10, 2018 file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump answers reporters' questions during a news conference with Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC.

    One question looms as President Donald Trump packs his bags for Switzerland: How will the Diet Coke-loving nationalist fit in with the Champagne-sipping globalists he'll encounter at the World Economic Forum in Davos?

    American presidents tend to shun the Davos diplomacy scene, a glitzy annual gathering at a Swiss Alpine resort that for nearly 50 years has drawn politicians, CEOs and celebrities to ponder public policy and global cooperation.

    Sitting presidents typically pass on the event, as known for its flashy parties and celebrity sightings as its policy powwows and international deal-making.

    Instead, Trump will be the star attraction at this year's high-minded, invitation-only summit. A real estate executive turned reality TV star who has embraced nationalism and railed against international trade practices, Trump doesn't seem like a natural fit. But with a government shutdown averted, Trump is packing up much of his Cabinet and his "America First" message and heading overseas.

    "We'll be talking about investing in the United States again," Trump said Tuesday, as he signed new tariffs that could draw criticism from the Davos crowd.

    The last sitting U.S. president to attend the summit was Bill Clinton in 2000. Barack Obama, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush all opted out. Ronald Reagan appeared via video link.

    Just how Trump approaches the gathering is the subject of feverish speculation as attendees try to game out what Trump will say in his remarks and whom he may meet with on the sidelines. Longtime attendees stressed that he might not find the warmest response among those who favor global trade and have been rattled by his rise to power.

    "It's a bit of a puzzle," said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist of IHS Markit. "First of all, he's going into a situation where the audience will not be that friendly."

    Trump leaves Washington Wednesday and will be in Switzerland Thursday and Friday. He plans to meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Swiss President Alain Berset. He will also attend a reception in his honor, host a dinner for European executives and deliver a keynote address.

    Top economic adviser Gary Cohn says Trump will tell the crowd that "America is open for business," highlighting the booming economy while stressing the need for "fair and reciprocal" trade practices.

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    Trump decided to make the move after some encouragement from Vice President Mike Pence and French President Emmanuel Macron, said a White House official, who wasn't authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    He's likely to get a different response than Clinton did 18 years ago.

    A champion of global trade, Clinton urged world leaders to consider workers and poorer nations in his 2000 address, saying, "Don't leave the little guys out." He has frequented the meeting ever since, receiving a warm reception. His former vice president, Al Gore, an environmental activist, is scheduled to attend this year.

    Top aides have typically attended even when the president did not. Vice President Joe Biden appeared on behalf of the Obama administration last year, and Vice President Dick Cheney attended for George W. Bush.

    Politicians aren't the only draw at Davos. In recent years, celebrity attendees have become part of the tableau, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Goldie Hawn and Bono among the superstar visitors. In 2006, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt attended panel discussions trailed by packs of photographers.

    This year, Elton John and Cate Blanchett already have grabbed Davos headlines.

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    Trump has not attended before. Said Bremmer, "This is not Trump's crowd."

    Even though Trump hasn't been there, his political rise — driven by nationalist rhetoric — has dominated the conversation in recent years.

    "I remember two years ago, every meeting at Davos, whatever it was about, would end with the theme that Trump could never be elected president," said Harvard University economist Kenneth Rogoff. "For him, I suspect this is a victory lap."

    Last year, Biden appeared at Davos in the final days of the Obama administration and used his remarks to issue a veiled criticism of Trump, calling on Europe and the United States to defend the "liberal" world order, decrying a growing impulse in the West toward isolation and building walls.

    Also sending a message to Trump last year was Chinese President Xi Jinping, who cast his country as a champion of free trade and stability, saying, "Whether you like it or not, the global economy is the big ocean that you cannot escape from."

    Trump may be looking to push back on those messages this year.

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    Last time, the crowd heard from Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci, the financier who briefly served as Trump's communications director over the summer. Scaramucci — known at Davos for throwing wine-tasting parties — sought to explain Trump's governing plans to an anxious audience.

    He insisted the administration "did not want to have a trade war," predicted that Trump's inaugural address would be "very Reaganesque," and said, "Directionally, this is a super compassionate man."

    But he also acknowledged the concerns about the incoming president.

    Scaramucci joked, "This is my 10th year here, but it is my first year here with a food taster."