His most lasting conservative legacy might be turning the trade war into such an economic trainwreck that neither party goes near tariffs again for decades.
In fact, I wonder if Trump’s trade policy might end up so unpopular by next year that even some like-minded Democratic candidates will be forced to scramble to the center to try to pick up voters who feel disaffected by it. Elizabeth Warren’s trade program is plenty protectionist in its own right, demanding as a precondition to negotiations that potential trade partners meet certain standards on labor, taxes, energy, and the environment which even the United States at present doesn’t meet. If the U.S. ends up in a recession and the public concludes that Trump’s trade war with China is the prime suspect (a belief that’ll be eagerly encouraged by the media), how aggressive can Warren really be on the stump in trying to shift blame away from tariffs and onto Wall Street?
Whether or not Trump creates a long-term public consensus in favor of free trade, it’s a cinch that ardent anti-Trumpism among Dems will create a short-term Democratic consensus in favor of it.
NBC didn’t provide a partisan breakdown but its story notes that “Democrats and independents much more supportive than they were four years ago.” That’s the best-case scenario for protectionists here, that most of the new love for free trade is pure, mindless opposition to anything Trump does. Even if we dodge a recession and the economy remains healthy into next fall, some critical mass of Dems will decide that the policy is bad because everything the orange man does is bad.
The worst-case scenario for protectionists? Well…
In the survey by the National Association for Business Economics, out Monday, 72% of economists predicted that a recession would occur by the end of 2021. That’s up from 67% in February and according to data gleaned from more than 200 respondents.
The new figure combines the 38% of economists who said they expect a recession to strike in 2020 with the 34% who said they see one befalling the US economy in 2021. In a survey conducted in February, 42% said they saw a 2020 meltdown, while just 25% forecasted one in 2021.
Trump is already incorporating some preemptive scapegoating into his rhetoric about this, insisting on the one hand that the economy has never been better while also informing the country that if he’s wrong then it certainly isn’t his fault:
…..The Fed Rate, over a fairly short period of time, should be reduced by at least 100 basis points, with perhaps some quantitative easing as well. If that happened, our Economy would be even better, and the World Economy would be greatly and quickly enhanced-good for everyone!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2019
Having already passed tax cuts and alienated Democrats to the point that no infrastructure stimulus is in the offing, he has few legislative tools at his disposal to try to goose growth if the economy falters. So we’re left to wonder what strange forms his panic might take if the monthly numbers begin to slow down. Would he try to fire Powell? Would he capitulate to China on trade in a desperate attempt to reverse unemployment trends? Would he start ranting on Twitter every day about a vast left-wing conspiracy to talk down the economy in hopes of defeating him next fall? Actually, he’s already started doing that, notes the Times:
“The Fake News Media is doing everything they can to crash the economy because they think that will be bad for me and my re-election,” Mr. Trump tweeted last week. “The problem they have is that the economy is way too strong and we will soon be winning big on Trade, and everyone knows that, including China!”
Mr. Trump has repeated the claims in private discussions with aides and allies, insisting that his critics are trying to take away what he sees as his calling card for re-election. Mr. Trump has been agitated in discussions of the economy, and by the news media’s reporting of warnings of a possible recession. He has said forces that do not want him to win have been overstating the damage his trade war has caused, according to people who have spoken with him. And several aides agree with him that the news media is overplaying the economic fears, adding to his feeling of being justified, people close to the president said.
WaPo says that behind closed doors he’s taken to accusing his enemies of manufacturing phony data to shape public opinion: “Trump has a somewhat conspiratorial view, telling some confidants that he distrusts statistics he sees reported in the news media and that he suspects many economists and other forecasters are presenting biased data to thwart his reelection, according to one Republican close to the administration who was briefed on some of the conversations.” Odds can’t be worse than 50/50 that if we end up in a true recession he’ll figure out a way to pin it on Soros.
By the way, this same poll found 89 percent in favor of universal background checks for gun purchases and 62 percent in favor of banning assault weapons, which is in line with other recent surveys. Is Trump still open to expanding background checks? Twelve days ago he said, “I’m looking to do background checks. I think background checks are important.” Yesterday he sounded more cautious, saying, “We do have a lot of background checks right now” and emphasizing that mental illness is the core problem that needs to be addressed. Sounds like gun-rights supporters have been talking to him since his insta-reaction after the El Paso and Dayton shootings.