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South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Photo: South Korean Presidential Blue House via Getty Images

On Wednesday, just 1 year after President Moon Jae-in took office, South Koreans reaffirmed their confidence in his administration by electing 14 out of 17 major municipality chiefs from the ruling party. This outcome marks a complete reversal of the 2006 municipal elections, when then-opposing conservatives won 12 out of 16 positions.

Why it matters: Progressives now fully control South Korean politics — national and municipal governments as well as the National Assembly. With this landslide victory, Moon's government gains new momentum to pursue his progressive agenda, including engagement with North Korea.

In South Korea, progressives and conservatives have historically butted heads over North Korea and the U.S.–South Korea alliance. With this decisive victory for the ruling party, conservative skeptics of North Korean engagement will lose ground, and Moon will garner support for an even more aggressive engagement policy. That's welcome news for the Trump administration, now that it's begun to engage the North as well.

The other side: If the post-summit negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea bring challenges, as they likely will, the rise of South Korean progressives could very well become a source of tension between Moon and Trump. Additionally, the new core group of elites in Moon's administration — many of whom were once activists in the anti-American democratic movements of the 1980s — might seek to redefine the terms of the U.S.–South Korea alliance. Nationalists at heart, they desire to turn South Korea into a true sovereign state with no foreign troops in its backyard, which could pose a serious challenge for the U.S.

The big picture: The election outcomes will strengthen the basis for close collaboration between the U.S. and South Korea on their joint engagement efforts with the North. However, we may also see a shift in the alliance if President Trump's desire to withdraw U.S. soldiers dovetails with South Korean elites' calls for greater national sovereignty.

Gi-Wook Shin is chair of Korean Studies at Stanford University, director of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

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John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”