By: OMOWARA DORCAS
President Trump campaigned like a populist but has mostly governed like a plutocrat. On trade , he’s decided to follow his populist id .
Trump has few core convictions. He has been all over the place on almost every issue. Trade is the biggest exception. The president has consistently agitated for protectionism since the 1970 s, and it was a signature theme of his insurgent candidacy.
On Thursday , he followed through on his campaign rhetoric by announcing that he plans to slap tariffs of 25 percent on foreign – made steel and 10 percent on aluminum .
“You will have protection for the first time in a long while , and you’re going to regrow your industries , ” Trump told steel executives at a White House meeting . “ What ’ s been allowed to go on for decades is disgraceful . ”
The president added this morning on Twitter that “trade wars are good, and easy to win . ”
Trump prioritized delivering for the blue- collar workers in the Rust Belt who put him in the Oval Office over placating the corporatists who have dominated his adopted party for generations . Wall Street and their allies on Capitol Hill were shocked because they didn ’ t think he would follow through on what he said repeatedly he would do on the stump . After all, his views have been so fungible on so much else. But Trump’ s belief that Americans have been suckered by bad trade deals turned out to be much more deeply held than the elites realized — especially with the pro – market forces weakened and marginalized in the West Wing.
The president went ahead with the unexpected announcement even after Gary Cohn, his top economic adviser , reportedly threatened to resign . Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Trump that the stock market gains he loves to boast about would reverse themselves . Defense Secretary James Mattis , who he ’ s normally inclined to defer to , warned that this would hurt U. S . relationships with allies.
Companies that use steel and aluminum , including automakers , account for vastly more jobs than producers of the metals , and they argued that as many as 200 , 000 jobs were lost when George W. Bush imposed steel tariffs in 2002 that were later ruled to be illegal by the World Trade Organization .
Just as much as protectionism is a core conviction for Trump , open markets are gospel for many Republicans . It ’ s one of the issues that Republican lawmakers have been most willing to publicly break with him on .
Conservatives who believe more in free markets than cults of personality are freaking out . The Wall Street Journal editorial page calls this “ the biggest policy blunder ” of Trump’ s presidency . Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement that he hopes the president “will consider the unintended consequences of this idea and look at other approaches before moving forward . ”
“Protectionism is weak , not strong , ” said Sen . Ben Sasse (R- Neb. ). “ You ’ d expect a policy this bad from a leftist administration, not a supposedly Republican one . ”
“There is no standard operating procedure with this administration . Every day is a new adventure for us , ” Sen . John Thune ( R- S . D. ) , the No . 3 in Republican leadership, told Erica Werner.
Making for strange bedfellows , Democrats from the industrial Midwest are cheering Trump. “ This welcome action is long overdue for shuttered steel plants across Ohio and steelworkers who live in fear that their jobs will be the next victims of Chinese cheating , ” said Sen. Sherrod Brown ( D- Ohio. ), who is up for reelection in a state Trump carried .
The reactions offered a potent reminder that the president got to the Oval Office because he triangulated . His success during the primaries came when he positioned himself against the Republican establishment and as the voice of “the forgotten man ” during the general election. Polls show that one of the most popular things he did during his first year in office was cut a deal with “ Chuck and Nancy, ” the Democratic leaders , to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government over GOP objections .
Such political considerations were a key factor as the president decided to buck the globalists in his orbit . “Trump has been keeping a close eye on the special election this month for a U. S . House seat in western Pennsylvania , which he considers the heart of his political base , ” Robert Costa reports . “ In recent weeks , he has been told by associates that voters in places such as Pennsylvania ’ s 18 th District are looking for more to be done by the administration … The president has noted that the Republican in the race is struggling in a district where he won by a large margin , those people said . ”
It’ s also already clear that the tariffs will not lead to any kind of permanent political rupture. While the conservative editorialists at the Journal were having heart palpitations , one of Rupert Murdoch’ s other media assets was giving Trump air cover . Fox News host Sean Hannity praised the president for “making good on his campaign promise to rebuild American industry in the face of cheap and unregulated foreign goods. ”