Why the Trump/Sanders Tariff Plan is Great for Campaigning, Terrible in Practice

Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Tariffs

One of the most boring parts about debates is that the candidates normally agree with each other over the general issues. There are semantics and details where they might differ, but only a handful of issues require completely different strategies. One of those strategies that emerged into the spotlight in the Fox Business GOP Debate was the idea of placing tariffs on countries such as China if they don’t properly value their currency.


Donald Trump has wanting to use tariffs against China for years. This isn’t something new even though it’s probably the first time anyone outside of a Trump rally has ever paid much attention to this particular idea. It’s not as big of a headline maker as banning Muslims or creating a deportation force, but it’s arguably the most radical in that it’s the biggest departure from most other candidates. There’s at least one candidate who shares Trump’s perspective on tariffs. It’s not Ted Cruz. Marco Rubio is innocent. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich are clean.

Bernie Sanders has the same basic perspective, though for different reasons. The socialist perspective holds tight alignment with Trump’s ideas on trade agreements in general and tariffs in particular. They both want to end all or most free trade agreements. They both want to use punitive tariffs to punish companies that deal overseas. They both believe their shared plan will bring more jobs back to Americans and they both believe that they can somehow keep the economy from falling apart despite the corrections made by Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

It’s not fair to say that their plans are exactly the same. After all, they’re both approaching their reasoning from different perspectives even if the basic goals are aligned. Unfortunately, both lead down the same road and that road happens to be objectionable to all other candidates and every President, Republican or  Democrat, since Jimmy Carter.


Here’s a quote: “We need to end the race to the bottom and develop trade policies which demand that American corporations create jobs here, and not abroad.”

Here’s another quote: “I’m sick of always reading about outsourcing. Why aren’t we talking about ‘onshoring’? We need to bring manufacturing jobs back home where they belong.”

Which one is “conservative” Trump and which is socialist Sanders?

On the surface, tariffs and renegotiated trade agreements sound like a good idea. One does not need to go very far below the surface to realize that it’s not plausible over the course of two Presidential terms. This is a generational agenda item, one of the few components of Presidential politics that require coordination between different administrations. We’ve seen this in play with the Trans-Pacific Partnership which technically started during the George W. Bush administration and had negotiations continue through most of Barack Obama’s administration. In fact, if it is allowed to pass, it won’t even be in place until the next President is in office.

Trump and Sanders are correct in their attacks on the TPP, NAFTA, and other trade agreements. Most are sloppy and did not result in the benefits they promised. However, unraveling them and engaging in renegotiations is foolish to force and impossible to push through quickly. The bad part is that a perfect storm, statesman-level negotiations, and domination akin to what Trump describes in The Art of the Deal would still not be enough to make anything happen in time to have a positive effect on the economy or jobs numbers any time soon. This is bad news for both candidates since perfection of quality and rapidity of installment are essential to their economic plans for the immediate future.


If Americans took 20 minutes to explore the downfall of the Sanders/Trump economic mentality, they would realize that both men are making promises that they are fully aware they would never attempt to keep. Doing so would crash the economy. However, it sounds great to standard voters on the campaign trail. For once, promises like these must be broken for the sake of the nation.


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