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Republicans Fighting with Trump Over Tariffs

Republicans Fighting with Trump Over Tariffs March 6, 2018

Paul Ryan, Orrin Hatch and other Republican leaders in Congress have finally found a policy on which they are willing to publicly go against Trump. Unsurprisingly, and justifiably, it’s trade and tariffs. And the split reveals some deep divisions on the right on the matter.


Congressional Republicans are maneuvering to stop President Trump from levying harsh tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, arguing that the move runs counter to the core of their economic agenda and could even cause political problems heading into the 2018 midterms.

“We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this plan,” AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), said in a statement Monday. “The new tax reform law has boosted the economy and we certainly don’t want to jeopardize those gains.”…

Amid mounting Republican dismay over Trump’s protectionist path, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, predicted the president ultimately will back off plans for the new trade levies.

“I think he’s thinking it through. We’ll see,” Hatch said Monday. “I think he’s shooting one across the bow and letting people know that we’re not being treated fairly in these international matters, and frankly I don’t blame him.

Hatch blamed White House trade advisor, Peter Navarro, for encouraging Trump to impose the tariffs. The veteran Republican said he had written the president to urge him to reverse his decision, adding: “I think it would be a tragedy if they continue on the course that was announced.”

Talk about walking a tightrope! He doesn’t blame Trump for threatening the tariffs, but it would be a tragedy if he followed through on it. Which kinda cancels out the threat, doesn’t it? There has long been a division on the right over this and other issues, one between the isolationist, fortress America ideal of paleo-conservatives and the global, interventionist, free trade ideal of the neo-conservatives. But the latter group has dominated Republican politics for decades. This is part and parcel of the resurgence of the nativist, know nothing right wing, which Trump represents.

But look, the paleo-conservative vision on trade died out because it simply doesn’t fit the modern world. It’s a global economy and there is simply no way of making it any other way. Labor, capital and material cross borders in today’s technological world and that genie is not going back in the bottle, nor should we try to make it so. We need a system of both free and fair trade to maximize positive outcomes for as many people as possible.

But in Trump’s world, everything is a zero sum game. If I spend more money on what you make than you spend on what I make, you’ve beaten me somehow. That’s how he thinks — except when he is personally profiting from it, of course. Then he’s more than happy to have his products made in China, Mexico, Bangladesh and elsewhere if it will make him more money. But that fits too — he wins, just over his customers rather than over other nations. It’s all about “winning” — whatever that means to him.

And the reality is that a global trading system also makes war less likely. When you have a big economic stake in the success of another country, you’re less likely to bomb them or invade them because you interrupt the exchange and hurt both sides. A global trading system is both inevitable and good.

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