Trump: It's hard to make America great again on trade with certain "weak politicians" backbiting me

Who could he mean? Ah, right, right.

There’s no point arguing over his claim that America “lost” on trade last year. It’s true in the same sense that you lose every time you go to the supermarket. This is the path he’s committed to.

And for all the backbiting from Senate Republicans yesterday, this is the path they’re committed to as well, whether they like it or not. David Drucker notes that amid the headline-grabbing grumbling about the farm bailout from the likes of Ron Johnson and Bob Corker, some members of McConnell’s caucus were relieved to see Uncle Sam sprinkle a little sugar on those hit hard by Trump’s trade war:

“Great to see @POTUS providing aid to farmers impacted by retaliatory #tariffs,” Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., tweeted…

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., had asked the administration to do something, emphasizing that soybean growers in his state have lost $600 million and that although support for Trump remains strong, his trade policies “are not working for them” and might not last the year if commodity prices continue to drop without a financial bridge.

“We’ve got some people who are on the tip of the spear right now,” Rounds said. “Even though we don’t like the idea of having an aid package, as opposed to trade, I think most producers would say: ‘We’ll take what we can get to get through this thing, but we really want to get this trade thing settled.’”

It’s just a temporary measure to see them through a moment of hardship until victory is secured, just like in any other war. But just like in any other war, although Congress technically has the power to stop it, they won’t dare undermine the commander-in-chief by trying to. Paint me a picture in which Senate Republicans ultimately grow so exasperated with Trump’s trade policies that they finally pass Bob Corker’s bill to strip him of some of his tariff powers. How long would that trade war need to go on? A year? Four years? Trump is famous for his mercurial nature, but if there’s any policy in which he’s apt to be resolute, it’s this one. He’s believed in protectionism for decades; he finally has the chance to implement it; and even if he came to regret it, there’d be no way to back down now without looking like an abject weakling who bowed to China and the EU. His tweet above about the backbiting weakening his negotiation hand is an early hint that he’ll look for an excuse to shift the blame if he does eventually need to cave — “it’s your fault we lost the war,” he’ll say to the critics, “not mine” — but realistically he’s out on a limb. This policy is his baby and everyone knows it. He’ll have to stand firm on protectionism until he gets a deal that can be spun as at least within spitting distance of “good.” He’ll completely lose face if he doesn’t.

Which means Senate Republicans are out on that limb too, for good or ill. If the economy slows down and the limb breaks, they all crash together. But Republicans aren’t going to be the ones to saw it off. If they did, Trump would heap blame on them, his base would revolt, and McConnell’s caucus would find itself politically isolated and facing primary challenges. Read Drucker’s piece and you’ll see the makings of what I predicted yesterday, that not only will there be more bailouts as the trade war rages but that Senate Republicans will end up approving them. Rounds’s logic will carry the day: It’s only temporary. We need to see this battle through to the end. If we don’t approve the bailouts, farm country will elect Democrats who will. Trump has a blank check from his caucus for all intents and purposes. The only open question is what other parts of the federal budget will be trimmed to “pay for” the trade war by offsetting the new bailouts.

By the way, you can think what you like about Trump’s trade tactics but don’t ever accuse him of not understanding American voters:

The [trade] moves have been unsettling to lawmakers with districts dependent upon manufacturers and farmers affected by the retaliatory tariffs.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said the proposal was raised a month ago when senators visited the White House for a broad discussion on trade. He said the lawmakers told the president “that our farmers want markets, and not really a payment from government. And he said, ‘I’m surprised, I’ve never heard of anybody who didn’t want a payment from government.'”

Me neither. That’s another reason why Republican-authorized bailouts will continue until Trump says they don’t need to anymore.

The next front in the global trade war, by the way, is automobiles, with Trump reportedly weighing a 25 percent tariff on imports. Imagine the ineffectual whining from Senate Republicans after that policy takes effect! As for his larger war plan, a Twitter pal made a shrewd point earlier: If the most important battle in all of this is teaching China a lesson about keeping its hands off of our intellectual property, we should be doing what countries typically do in massive wars by forming alliances. We’re not the only nation to be fleeced by Beijing. A western alliance aimed at forcing China to respect IP, with trade policy as the pressure mechanism, makes more sense than a unilateral war between the U.S. and China does. But that alliance is untenable at the moment thanks to Trump’s master strategic gambit of … also starting trade wars with America’s allies. He declared war on China, then declared war on Canada and the EU. He’s playing eight-dimensional Chutes & Ladders.

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