Oh well. According to Axios, the global trade war begins tomorrow. “[S]ome of Trump’s nationalist-minded advisers are telling him these tariffs will help turn out voters in the upcoming special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district,” the story notes.
Which, if true, in terms of its total economic impact might make this the most expensive special election in American history.
I’ll say this much in fairness to Trump: If it were Bernie Sanders mouthing idiocies about tariffs instead of a Republican president widely despised by the left, the partisan numbers here would look different. Bear that in mind as the media coverage about the unpopularity of Trump’s policy piles up. How much of the two parties’ support and opposition is on the merits and how much is knee-jerk tribal partisan garbage, as most of our politics is nowadays?
How do you suppose the “Obama steel and aluminum tariffs” would have polled among Republicans and Democrats?
On the other hand, we’ve all read enough polls about various issues, foreign and domestic, over the past year to know that one party’s reaction usually mirrors the other’s. E.g., if Democrats are 66/33 on a question, odds are fair that Republicans will be 66/33 the other way, and vice versa. That’s tribalism for you. Notably, this result doesn’t follow that trend. Democrats are strongly opposed to the tariffs at 11/73 but GOPers support them at a weaker 58/20. There’s more skepticism than usual on the right towards Trump policies here. Even his base of whites without a college degree is evenly divided at 42/40.
Here’s where things get dangerous for Republicans. As the price of goods rises, support for the tariffs naturally turns weaker:
Democratic and independent numbers don’t move much there relative to the first question about tariffs but Republican opposition dives 12 points. GOPers are trusting Trump that the parade of horribles to come that’s being articulated by free-traders won’t actually happen. Goods won’t get pricier (or at least not noticeably so), the economy won’t slow down, jobs won’t be lost. In fact, when Quinnipiac followed up by asking people if they thought the tariffs would be good or bad for jobs, Republicans split 49/10 (with another 25 percent predicting no effect). That’s a strikingly weak result for a president among his own party but GOPers are still optimistic on balance. What happens if that optimism isn’t borne out?
Another thing. One of the great political virtues of the party’s tax-cuts bill last year is that it provides voters with a silver-bullet explanation for all good things economically that follow, whether the tax cuts are actually responsible for those things or not. If unemployment remains low and GDP continues to grow, Trump and the GOP can point to that and say, “See? Tax cuts!” And many voters will agree. People like neat, straightforward explanations of complicated phenomena. With the tariff gambit, though, Trump’s risking the same effect in reverse. If the Dow starts to fade, if unemployment ticks up, if GDP slows down, suddenly Trump’s critics have their own silver-bullet explanation whether or not that’s the *real* explanation: “Tariffs!” Trump killed the economic boom! A fair number of Republican voters are primed to believe that, per the data above — assuming anyone bothers to make the case to them. Schumer and Pelosi will need to tread lightly on bruising Trump over tariffs lest they offend the protectionists in their own ranks by doing so.
By the way, apparently the last straw in the Trump/Gary Cohn divorce was Trump asking Cohn directly at a meeting whether he intended to show his loyalty by supporting POTUS on tariffs and Cohn … not answering. Could a reunion be in the works down the road, though? Exit quotation via Axios: “Trump would be willing to entertain calling Cohn back for a big job (White House chief of staff?), and Cohn would consider it, the sources said.”