Why the trade war will hurt Trump

by Douglas E. Schoen

Today, the latest round of tariffs will be placed on imports from China, including many everyday items such as plastic goods and electronics. These tariffs come one week after President Trump took to Twitter to “hereby order” American companies out of China, citing the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977. While the legality of executive authority to order American companies out of China is questionable at best, his tweet and the latest round of tariffs indicate that Trump will not deescalate his trade war any time soon, even with 2020 on the horizon.

Following his announcement of the additional round of tariffs, Chinese officials asked for fresh trade talks and negotiations, rather than an immediate tariff retaliation that would hurt the Chinese economy and the global economy in clear and profound ways. Moreover, as the ongoing trade war with one of the largest American trading partners wages on, the impact continues to push businesses and consumers in the United States to their limits, with great potential for harm to the domestic economy.

While the president will certainly face a great deal of political backlash, Republicans up for reelection are also becoming especially uneasy with the neverending trade dispute and haphazard implementation of tariffs. On the campaign trail, Trump and top Republicans frequently tout the strong economy as the primary accomplishment of their party, pointing to key data such as low unemployment and increased consumer spending.

However, as slowdown concerns begin to rise, whether it be because of the inverted yield curve, the lowering of interest rates by the Federal Reserve, or some of the largest one day losses in stock market history, Republicans are beginning to fear that the trade war will prevent them from being able to take credit for a strong economy. Even Republicans who are not up for reelection have been raising their concerns, especially given that the otherwise strong economy is showing signs of decline.

Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey is one of the Republicans concerned about the impact of the escalating trade war. “There is no question that trade uncertainty is contributing to the slowdown,” Toomey said. “We are in a very good place. The danger is, where are we going to be a year from now if concerns about trade continue to be an irritant to growth?” His concerns are shared by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican who said, “The biggest risk to the economy is the whole trade situation.”

It has become clear that members of the same party as the White House are growing frustrated with the retaliatory tariffs implemented by the president, as they are unwise both practically and politically. Furthermore, the ongoing trade war has greatly impacted American perceptions of China and of our economic relationship with the global superpower.

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 60 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of China, the highest share of Americans to hold this opinion ever recorded in the survey. Not only that, but 53 percent of Americans see current economic relations between the United States and China as harmful. This finding does not bode well for Republicans, especially given 50 percent of Americans say that the growing Chinese economy is a good thing for the United States, while only 41 percent say that the growing Chinese economy is a bad thing.

In 2020, the economy will certainly be an issue at the forefront of the national conversation. If the trade war continues to escalate, Trump can expect to face a great deal of political backlash for these tariffs, which will adversely impact not just his reelection chances, but also the reelection chances of members of his own party. Waging a trade war that negatively impacts American businesses and consumers is a questionable strategy, especially leading up to an election, that the president must abandon both for his own sake and for the sake of the country he represents.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. He is a political consultant, Fox News contributor, and the author of “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”


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