Yet he didn’t have the chops to rebut substantive arguments. Bannon almost persuaded Trump to unilaterally pull out of NAFTA, until Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue showed Trump a map of where trade-dependent farmers reside: states that Trump won. Trump was swayed, saying afterwards, “It shows that I do have a very big farmer base, which is good. They like Trump, but I like them, and I’m going to help them.”
Bannon thought his trade and manufacturing agenda would be easier to execute. In February, he told the conservative Conservative Political Action Conference that Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership was going to usher in a new economic nationalist era. “People are starting to think through a whole raft of amazing and innovative, bilateral trading relationships with people that will reposition America in the world as a fair trading nation and start to bring jobs—high value-added, manufacturing jobs—back to the United States of America,” he said.
But even Trump’s top trade official recently admitted to POLITICO Magazine, “some of the TPP countries don’t want to do bilaterals” because it’s not worth lowering tariffs without wider global market access in return. And while the Trump administration loves talking about the occasional new American manufacturing plant, it has little to say about the likelihood that these plants will be run increasingly by robots.