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Can Trump play to his base and the Davos globalists?

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When President Donald Trump takes the stage at the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, he'll be addressing a group committed to globalism and less receptive to his message of nationalism and protectionism. 

How hard a line Mr. Trump draws remains to be seen, but an early warning came just this week, when his administration stirred controversy by imposing tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines. 

On Tuesday, NAFTA member Mexico blasted the U.S. tariffs, while Germany questioned whether the U.S. move would spark a trade war with China and South Korea.

Key U.S. allies and trading partners, however, are making clear they're moving ahead, with or without Washington, and possibly regardless what the president has to say on Friday.

What is the World Economic Forum? 01:02

Illustrating the divide, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday told the gathering of elites at the WEF that his country had signed a trade accord with the 10 remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal Mr. Trump withdrew the U.S. from shortly after taking office last year.

Trudeau also told the forum that Canada is working to convince the U.S. president of the benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. 

Mr. Trump will have to choose between showing that he can go into the globalists' lion's den and deliver a nationalist, populist speech, or "he can try to demonstrate that what he's doing will strengthen America and allow it to be a better partner in the world," Stuart Eizenstat, the former U.S. ambassador to the European Union told Reuters. 

If the U.S. president opts to take the less diplomatic route, it will be poorly received by the audience in Davos and elsewhere, cautioned Eizenstat. "It will be a signal for world leaders -- and I heard this from a number of world leaders -- that they really can't do business with him anymore."

Mr. Trump, who leaves Wednesday and arrives in Switzerland on Thursday, is making the journey to "tell the world that America is open for business," Gary Cohn, a top White House economic adviser, told reporters Tuesday.

Asked about a report that French President Emmanuel Macron and Vice President Mike Pence had touted the idea of the president going to Davos, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said multiple people felt the forum offers "a good platform for [the president] to take his America First economic message, and that's what we expect to do."

What is Davos? 01:10

That said, not all pundits accept the idea that Mr. Trump's policies depart widely from those gathered in Davos. Progressive economist Jeff Faux of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute contends that the president's economic agenda is in line with the political and corporate honchos gathered in the Swiss Alps. 

"Perhaps a bit less refined and more obviously ego-saturated than that of your average European CEO, but Trump's vision of the world is quite in sync with the Davos crowd: The world economy is a neoliberal dog-eat-dog jungle, where government's role is to help the rich get richer," Faux wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

Hundreds of protesters, some with their faces covered, marched in Switzerland's largest city to denounce the WEF as well as Mr. Trump's scheduled visit.

Marchers in Zurich chanted slogans, clapped and waved flags with anti-capitalist messages. One read: "Dump the Trump," others said: "Smash WEF."

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