There has been a not-insignificant amount of criticism leveled at the Trump administration for raising tariffs on China, including a March 2018 measure imposing taxes on steel imports at 25% and imported aluminum at 10% .
Conservatives immediately began warning of the dangers of a trade war (a very popular t-shirt even started popping up on conservative twitter. A symbol of sorts, like early Christians drawing the symbol of the fish in the sand with their toe so they could clandestinely identify each other, I guess).
For President Donald Trump’s part, he’s ignored the criticism and pushed ahead with his plan, insisting that his action imposing tariffs is an answer to years of bad behavior by the Chinese, and is an attempt to crack down on intellectual property theft on the order of $300 billion. Specifically, in addressing the taxes the Chinese government imposes on the import of U.S.-manufactured cars, Trump doubled-down Monday morning and said “tariffs on Chinese goods are the antidote to ‘stupid trade’ practices allowed for years by his predecessors.”
“When a car is sent to the United States from China, there is a Tariff to be paid of 2 1/2%. When a car is sent to China from the United States, there is a Tariff to be paid of 25%,” Trump wrote on Twitter just after 6 a.m. Monday morning. “Does that sound like free or fair trade. No, it sounds like STUPID TRADE – going on for years!”
Long a part of his political platform, trade has become an especially key point of fixation for the president in recent weeks as he has begun to ramp up his pledge to level the playing field of international trade. Although he has imposed some across the board tariffs, the bulk of Trump’s announced trade moves have targeted China, with which the U.S. runs a significant trade deficit.
The line that the U.S. isn’t starting a trade war but rather finally responding to bad trade practices overlooked by previous administrations is a familiar one for Trump.
We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the U.S. Now we have a Trade Deficit of $500 Billion a year, with Intellectual Property Theft of another $300 Billion. We cannot let this continue!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 4, 2018
And now it looks as though conservatives who seek to criticize Trump for his trade policy won’t have a generally reliable voice backing them. Senator Marco Rubio, it seems, agrees with Trump.
This is the kind of absurd analysis that results when you have decided to be against whatever Trump administration is for. It puts virtually all blame for trade conflicts on @Potus instead of years of #China trade growth built on theft & rule breaking. https://t.co/e2uYekS04K
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 9, 2018
The article the Senator links makes basically the same case that the anti-trade war conservatives have been making, just from the perspective of a Europe, who trades with both nations, potentially caught in the middle: if Trump carries on the way he’s going, Europe is sure to suffer the consequences it says.
European leaders’ biggest fear may be that Mr. Trump’s belligerent approach to trade will destroy the postwar system for resolving conflicts, which involved getting all the parties together in one room. Mr. Trump has already succeeded in forcing countries to beg for individual exemptions to steel and aluminum tariffs, bypassing the World Trade Organization, the usual forum for trade disputes.
“He has created an environment to divide countries,” said André Sapir, a senior fellow at Bruegel, a research organization in Brussels. “Maybe we will remember that 2017 was the last year of the functioning of the multilateral system.”
Given that Mr. Rubio has been a vocal critic of this administration on a host of other decisions it has made, and is a favorite among conservatives who are uneasy with the Trump administration, it’s worth wondering if his criticism of the Times piece will have those conservatives rethinking Trump’s approach to China on trade.