Trump’s ‘Blame Canada’ Strategy Showd He Loves Tariffs, Until He Hates Them


There’s been a noticeable shift in rhetoric from the Trump administration on trade and tariffs. As always, President Trump’s Twitter account is a good place to start. After meeting with the leaders of allied countries at this past week’s G7 summit in Quebec, Trump tweeted out a series of statements insisting on “fair and reciprocal trade” and blasting Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau for his country’s protectionist policies.

Great meetings and relationships with the six Country Leaders especially since they know I cannot allow them to apply large Tariffs and strong barriers to … U.S.A. Trade. They fully understand where I am coming from. After many decades, fair and reciprocal Trade will happen!” Trump said. “The United States will not allow other countries to impose massive Tariffs and Trade Barriers on its farmers, workers and companies. While sending their product into our country tax free. We have put up with Trade Abuse for many decades — and that is long enough.”

After Trudeau’s post-summit press conference, in which the PM said Canada would move forward on “retaliatory measures” in response to the imposition of new tariffs on steel and aluminum from the Trump administration, the president tweeted that he would no longer endorse the communique signed by the G7 leaders. Trump tore into Trudeau and Canada’s tariffs on dairy products to protect its own dairy industry.

Later, on Sunday, Trump continued his Twitter tirade against Canadian protectionism. “Fair Trade is now to be called Fool Trade if it is not Reciprocal. According to a Canada release, they make almost 100 Billion Dollars in Trade with U.S. (guess they were bragging and got caught!). Minimum is 17B. Tax Dairy from us at 270%. Then Justin acts hurt when called out!” he tweeted. “Why should I, as President of the United States, allow countries to continue to make Massive Trade Surpluses, as they have for decades, while our Farmers, Workers & Taxpayers have such a big and unfair price to pay? Not fair to the PEOPLE of America! $800 Billion Trade Deficit …”

You can almost see a messaging strategy forming in real-time. No longer is the president making a protectionist argument for protectionist policies—as Trump put it back in March, “We’re doing tariffs on steel. We cannot lose our steel industry. It’s a fraction of what it once was. And we can’t lose our aluminum industry. Also a fraction of what it once was.” Now, actually, he’s quite critical of other nations’ tariffs and cites them as a justification for his own trade policies.

On Fox News Sunday, Trump trade adviser and arch-protectionist Peter Navarro parroted the president’s rhetoric. After bizarrely stating there is a “special place in hell” for someone like Trudeau who engages in “bad faith diplomacy,” Navarro told Fox News’s Chris Wallace that Trudeau’s retaliatory tariffs are “nothing short of an attack on our political system and it’s nothing short of Canada trying to raise its high protectionist barriers even higher on things like maple syrup and other goods.”

This is the same Peter Navarro, an economist with idiosyncratic views on trade, who has argued that tariffs are a good in and of themselves:

Navarro is much more confident that tariffs would simply benefit the U.S. economy. “If you think about the trade issue, ultimately I think it’s really a good thing for the market that we are doing these kinds of trade actions,” he said on CNBC on April 2. In a
Wall Street Journal op-ed in March of 2017, Navarro argued that reducing the trade deficit will help reduce foreign investment in the United States, which he claims represents Warren Buffett’s ominous concept of “conquest by purchase” by foreign governments, chiefly China. A reduction in foreign investment, then, means more domestic investment by American manufacturers. Tariffs, for Navarro, are not simply about curbing unfair trade practices—they’re an end in themselves, a chance to stand athwart the globalizing economy, yelling stop.

What’s happened here? Besides the affront Trump seems to have felt from Trudeau’s supposed “back stab” (both Navarro and National Economic Council chairman Larry Kudlow in their Sunday show appearances focused on how Trudeau “attacked” Trump), there appears to be an effort to change the terms of the debate over tariffs, from one about protecting American industry to one about fighting for free trade—if only our allies stopped their bad tariffs first. Why?

It could be the politics. As Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star pointed out on Twitter, a number of local news outlets in states Trump won are running stories noting how local businesses are struggling in anticipation of Trump’s tariffs. “Tariffs take toll on Wisconsin manufacturers,” reads one headline. “Florida businesses tell Gov. Scott that Trump’s tariffs are ‘not fair and consistent,” reads another.

The polling on tariffs isn’t great, either. One recent Politico/Morning Consult poll found 70 percent of registered voters said they wanted the Trump administration to focus more on “negotiating trade agreements to open new markets to sell American-made products and goods.” Just 14 percent said the administration should focus more on imposing tariffs.

So what’s a White House committed to a protectionist agenda to do with a public that is, at best, lukewarm about it? “Canada started it” may be the best refuge.





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