In a sharp break from diplomatic practice, Donald Trump’s recently-appointed Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, has intervened in European politics by calling for conservatives to be empowered.
Grenell, who presented his credentials on May 8, issued his call in an interview with the hard-right attack site Breitbart which was published on Sunday:
There are a lot of conservatives throughout Europe who have contacted me to say they are feeling there is a resurgence going on.
I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders. I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left.
Ambassadors are supposed to be firmly neutral on domestic affairs of the country which hosts them, but Grenell pressed ahead:
There’s no question about that and it’s an exciting time for me. I look across the landscape and we’ve got a lot of work to do but I think the election of Donald Trump has empowered individuals and people to say that they can’t just allow the political class to determine before an election takes place, who’s going to win and who should run.
That’s a very powerful moment when you can grasp the ability to see past the group-think of a very small elitist crowd telling you you have no chance to win or you’ll never win, or they mock you early on.
Grenell’s comments take on added resonance and sensitivity because of a surge of hard-right parties, including Germany’s AFD, with which some Trump supporters — including former Breitbart editor and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon — have expressed sympathy.
The Ambassador claimed “support is massive” for candidates that can articulate “consistent conservative” policies, including on migration — a leading issue on which the anti-immigrant AFD has tried to mobilize support — tax cuts, and cutting red tape and bureaucracy.
He did not refer to any specific German parties or individuals but did name Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, chairman of the of the Austrian People’s Party, “Look, I think [he] is a rockstar. I’m a big fan.”
Kurz has clashed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, tried to push back the number of migrants and refugees that can enter the European Union.
Grenell’s remarks quickly drew criticism from former high-ranking US diplomats as well as the attention of journalists. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy tweeted:
When I raised concerns to Grenell about politicizing this post, he personally assured me that once he became Ambassador he would stay out of politics. This interview is awful – Ambassadors aren't supposed to "empower" any political party overseas. https://t.co/i8oOhqEk5k
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) June 3, 2018
Grenell tried to walk back the remarks, retweeting the “it never happened” denials of conservative activists: “Read the piece, he doesn’t say anything of the sort“….”Either you didn’t read the piece at all & are parroting what someone else told you, or you did read it & are lying.”
Bizarrely — having endorsed particular politicians and movements — he then maintained, “The idea that I’d endorse candidates/parties is ridiculous.”
You literally told Breitbart:“I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders.” https://t.co/PhhBtm4iY1 How, exactly, have your comments been misconstrued? https://t.co/EsZ150n4b1
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) June 4, 2018