It’s hardly a surprise that Donald Trump would back his own brand of conservatism abroad, nor has he shied away from commenting on the internal affairs of other countries – whether that is backing Brexit supporters in Britain or calling out Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door immigration policies.
And yet the fact that his new ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, would openly speak of supporting the backers of Trump’s brand of conservatism across Europe seems to have crossed a new line for Germans across the political spectrum. "I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders," he told right-wing news site, Breitbart, over the weekend.
It's hardly the first time that Mr. Grenell has raised Germany's hackles, nor is he the only reason that relations between Germany and the US are at a new low. But less than one month into the job, the latest comment has even prompted the first calls for Mr. Grenell’s resignation: “If this is how it was [said], then this man should leave the country,” tweeted Johannes Kahrs, a parliamentarian from the Social Democrats. His former party leader Martin Schulz was more colorful, likening the US ambassador to a “far-right colonial officer.”
A spokesman for Angela Merkel was more diplomatic in his reaction to the top US diplomat, saying only that Berlin was seeking “clarification” for his remarks. Ms. Merkel herself would not be drawn into the dispute at a press conference later in the day. Mr. Grenell, meanwhile, sought to put out the firestorm by tweeting that suggestions he was advocating for specific parties in Europe was “absurd.” He was merely highlighting “an awakening of the silent majority” in Europe, similar to the one led by Mr. Trump himself.
Like most political interventions by outsiders, the comments have also rallied Angela Merkel’s opponents to her side. Sevim Dagdelen of the opposition left party “Die Linke” slammed Mr. Grenell for outing himself as Trump’s “regime change envoy.”
In other words, calls for an “awakening” of conservatives could well have the opposite effect. That’s a lesson even Mr. Trump’s predecessor might agree with. After all, remember what happened when Barack Obama urged Britons not to vote for Brexit?
Christopher Cermak is an editor for Handelsblatt Global. Various Handelsblatt reporters contributed to this story. To contact the author: [email protected]