People often say that war is one of the best ways to boost a president’s ratings, yet this new looming trade war is certainly an unprecedented version of that statement. European leaders were furious about the steel tariffs before their exemptions were announced, Wall Street continues to take hit after hit over potential fear ending 724 points lower yesterday, and even Trump’s own party has taken to a vocal dissent of the president (something that has been extremely uncommon in this presidency). With all this outcry, many have wondered why the president has continued to trail blaze the tariff path and potentially cause a trade war, specifically with China.
One of the major reasons is that whether or not it makes sense, Trump does what he wants when he wants to. Whether it be banning transgender individuals in the military via tweet (a decision that supposedly blindsided his defense secretary) or going off script in his comments following a race fueled riot in South Carolina. Trump has made it clear that he wants it his way or the highway, and he doesn’t care about potential political blowback because of it. Trump has marketed himself as being a “political outsider” (despite following a hard lined right leaning agenda), but for the first time he’s shown a true break from the party that gave him his support.
The pattern with which Trump has gone through these tariffs has shown though that he’s using them as a personal bargaining tool, not just as an economic proposal. Right at announcement, Trump made it clear that he and he alone will decide who is on and off the tariff list unless Congress were to pass a law restricting him. A 25% tariff would be a massive issue for Canada who makes up the most steel imports to the US of any country.This is one of the main countries Trump is trying to get to renegotiate NAFTA. Mexico, another NAFTA country, also stands to lose money and maybe could be persuaded in Trump’s mind to pay for the cost of his wall rather than allow a tariff to go into place. The tariffs also would deal about 400 million is damage to China by estimates of many economists, one of the major economic enemies touted by Trump during his campaign. There are of course many other countries and the EU majorly affected by the tariffs, but these three represent a fulfillment of campaign promises that maybe can overshadow the lack of a wall build or the blunder that was Obama care repeal.
Many liberals make the mistake of assuming Trump is an idiot. The president may make erratic decisions or speak seemingly without reason, but he still is surrounded by strategists and did have the personal savvy to commandeer the Republican party. Trump is using his tariffs, or the threat of being able to re-impose the tariffs at his will, in order to get the first actual bargaining chip in foreign policy ally negotiation that has been seen in some time. This strategy could massively backfire and result in a huge trade war, but then again how much would that really affect a man with millions in his bank account to fall back on? Trump’s gamble can only hurt the American people if it fails, and the world holds its breath to see if this power might be checked.