Donald Lambro: Trump’s renewed tariff tantrum could spoil the economic party
President Trump’s plan to win re-election next year on a booming economy and a soaring stock market ran into serious trouble this week.
Trump’s political future looked promising after Congress enacted his pro-growth tax cuts, boosting economic growth and wages, reducing unemployment and sending the stock market into overdrive.
Then his gung-ho economic agenda went into a nosedive when he began to deliver on his campaign promise to slap our largest trading partners with stiff trade tariffs that ignited a dangerous trade war with China, which retaliated with a vengeance.
Beijing announced early this week that it was imposing additional tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. exports in response to Trump’s escalating tariffs on Chinese goods.
The president responded by announcing he will raise further U.S. tariffs on all $540 billion of Chinese imports from television sets to cellphones to cameras.
The trade war escalated, as its critics forecast, into a battle where there are no winners, only losers on both sides.
Nevertheless, Trump has repeatedly and inaccurately maintained that the U.S. Treasury is raking in millions, if not billions, from the tariffs he is imposing on our trading partners.
Even Trump’s National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow acknowledged on Fox News Sunday that it’s the American consumers, and U.S. importers, who will pay for Trump’s tariffs.
“It’s not China that pays tariffs,” host Chris Wallace said. “It’s the American importers, the American companies that pay what, in effect, is a tax increase, and oftentimes passes it on to U.S. consumers.”
“Fair enough,” Kudlow replied. “In fact, both sides will pay. Both sides will pay in these things. Both sides will suffer on this.”
Yet earlier this month, Trump insisted in a tweet that “Tariffs are NOW being paid to the United States by China of 25% on 250 Billion Dollars worth of goods and products. These massive payments go directly to the Treasury of the U.S.”
That’s not how former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson sees it. “They’re a tax on the American consumer,” he recently said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” “Will it hurt us? If this persists too long, it will. There’ll be a cost to it.”
By early this week, questions were being raised about Trump’s negotiating skills, or lack of them.
Negotiations were continuing with the Chinese, but an agreement remained elusive. Trump threatened in a tweet that he would increase tariffs by $200 billion by the end of the week if there was no progress in the talks.
“Mr. Trump’s threat caught Chinese officials by surprise,” writes Ana Swanson and Keith Brasher for Forbes online this week. “President Trump’s tweets come after Chinese officials took a tough line in high-level trade negotiations.”
But Trump’s tweet “fit a familiar pattern. He has routinely turned to tariffs to help speed negotiations and win concessions from America’s trading partners,” they said.
“But it remains to be seen whether Trump’s hard-fisted style will produce an agreement, or his attempts to pressure China will backfire by pushing already tense relations past the breaking point,” they reported.
Meantime, back on the home front, the stock market was having a nervous breakdown over the escalating trade war that rattled investors and the U.S. economy.
News of China imposing steep tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. goods shook the global economy, too, and financial markets across Europe.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 617 points, or 2.4%, as investors contemplated an economic crisis that could lead to a recession.
“Stock investors are in risk-off mode as Trump’s trade war with China seems to be escalating, while negotiations seem to be breaking down,” said Wall Street analyst Ed Yardeni. In times like these, the nation needs a calm, steady hand, and a patient negotiator — skills that have been sadly missing in recent weeks.
Trump thinks threats will produce a trade deal, but they have only served to further stiffen China’s resolve not to be intimidated and pushed around. They are, after all, one of the world’s largest economies and, by the way, one of our best customers.
Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.