THE MORNING PLUM:
Donald Trump got elected president by telling his voters an uncomplicated story with an easy-at-hand cast of villains and scapegoats, two of which occupied a particularly prominent role: immigrants and China.
Now Trump is making perhaps his most outsize moves yet to translate that tale into policy reality, and those efforts are completely untethered from real-world policy complexity in one case, and from reality in the other. Here are two charts that help demonstrate this.
The first is about Trump’s imminent trade war with China. It’s from the Brookings Institution, and it shows the number of 2016 jobs in all the industries targeted by China’s new round of threatened tariffs (click to enlarge):
This Brookings analysis, which is based on Emsi and Bureau of Labor Statistics data, shows the number of jobs in industries that have been targeted by China’s latest announcement of a second round of retaliatory tariffs, which include soybeans, cars and planes. This comes after the first round of China’s threatened tariffs on a far more limited range of products, including fruit, tree nuts and hog farming. Both rounds came in response to Trump’s own escalated tariff threats. In an earlier analysis, Brookings calculated that the first round of China tariffs targeted nearly 276,000 jobs — nearly 150,000 in counties carried by Trump and just over 125,000 in counties carried by Hillary Clinton.
The grand total of jobs that are in industries targeted by both rounds of China’s threatened tariffs: nearly 2 million, over 1 million of which are in Trump counties and over 900,000 of which are in Clinton counties.
“This is a much more industrial story, and potentially much more consequential,” Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings, told me, adding that while blue territory such as Washington state and California is implicated, China’s latest tariffs mean “red counties and the manufacturing heartland are hit hard.”
It’s true that administration officials are now sending soothing signals, noting that none of the tariffs on either side have happened yet and that these hostilities could just be preludes to talks over trade tensions. But we all know these officials are saying this only because the markets are rattled and important constituencies — such as agricultural interests — shrieked with alarm. We all know there is no telling whether these officials actually speak for Trump or what he might end up doing if this continues. It’s perfectly plausible that Trump, who nonsensically speaks of trade deficits as national humiliation and who has vowed that trade wars are “easy to win,” will see anything less than a full-blown trade war in which he grinds China’s face into the dirt as a loss.
Indeed, Trump’s initial decision on tariffs was reportedly so “last-minute” that it caught important stakeholders off guard, because it came when he was “gunning for a fight” and “unglued” about other matters. We all know Trump has not given any thought to the policy difficulties involved, and the chart above helps show how complex they are.
Meanwhile, Trump has ordered the National Guard to the border. The second chart, courtesy of NPR, shows why this is so absurd right at this moment:
Illegal border crossings are at a historic low. More broadly, as Simon Rosenberg has noted, Trump’s demagoguery about immigration has completely ignored the realities that crime has been falling for decades and the undocumented population leveled off years ago.
Now, it’s true that there might be good reasons to send the Guard, under certain specific conditions, to help with things like processing arriving migrants or to deal with a specific flare-up of violence. But as Dara Lind points out, the administration has no such rationale. Officials are saying it’s necessary to combat the “growing threat of illegal immigration.” As Lind says, Trump wants to send in the Guard “for literally no good reason.”
Of course, we all know what the real reason is, and we all know the specifics involved have nothing whatsoever to do with it. As one Trump adviser told The Post, Trump’s decision came amid his concerns that his base might be alienated by his failure to secure money for his wall in the omnibus spending bill, something that was stoked by his careful monitoring of Fox News. This is all about Trump telling himself he’s following through on his vow to be tough and strong.
Writing at CNN.com, Stephen Collinson makes a persuasive case that these recent moves appear impulsively timed “in order to preserve his support base and the vocal backing of conservative media.” Trump is stoking xenophobic tensions on not one but two fronts — only this time, he’s doing so via the undertaking of policy actions that could have all sorts of unforeseen complexities and consequences, without giving any apparent thought to them in the least, even as he drifts deeper and deeper into Foxlandia.
* MUELLER QUESTIONS RUSSIAN OLIGARCHS: CNN reports that Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators have been aggressively questioning Russian oligarchs during visits to the United States, to determine whether “wealthy Russians illegally funneled cash donations” into Trump’s campaign:
Mueller’s team has intensified its focus into the potential flow of money from Russia. … One area under scrutiny, sources say, is investments Russians made in companies or think tanks that have political action committees that donated to the campaign. Another … is whether wealthy Russians used straw donors — Americans with citizenship — as a vessel through which they could pump money into the campaign and inauguration fund.
It’s illegal for foreign nationals to donate to U.S. campaigns. The question will be not only whether this happened but also whether any Americans knew of or were actively involved in it.
* PENTAGON WORRIES ABOUT TRUMP BORDER PLAN: The New York Times reports that some Pentagon officials are fretting about Trump’s plan to send the National Guard to the border:
At the Pentagon, several officials privately expressed concern about being seen as picking a fight with an ally at a time when the military has plenty of adversaries — the Islamic State, North Korea, Russia, Syria — to contend with. Massing American troops at another country’s border, several current and former Defense Department officials said, would send a message of hostility and raise the chances of provoking an all-out conflict.
But won’t this show of Trump’s toughness finally force Mexico to pay for his wall?
* REPUBLICANS FRET ABOUT TRUMP’S TRADE WAR: David Drucker reports that Republicans are deeply worried that an escalating trade war with China could hurt their midterm hopes:
Republicans fear that an unintended trade war might erase the economic gains they’re depending on to buttress the party against political headwinds. … Working-class voters might not fret too much about stock market volatility attributed to Trump’s trade policies. But it could push the white collar set right into the arms of the Democrats, especially in educated, upscale suburbs that typically vote Republican but are drifting, because of dissatisfaction with the president’s polarizing leadership.
And if China’s retaliatory tariffs do cost some jobs in Trump counties, that probably won’t help with the blue-collar base.
* CHINA VOWS NO SURRENDER: Reuters reports that official state news sources in China are vowing that they won’t back down in the imminent trade war, and they are aiming their response directly at Trump:
The ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper said Beijing’s quick counter-move had caught the Americans off guard. “Within 24 hours of the U.S. publishing its list, China drew its sword, and with the same strength and to the same scale, counterattacked quickly, fiercely and with determination,” the paper said … China appeared to be angling to inflict political costs on Trump by striking at signature U.S. exports.
But Trump’s new economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, told Fox News: “I believe that the Chinese will back down and will play ball.”
* TRUMP DELAYS WITHDRAWAL FROM SYRIA: Trump has vowed to pull us out of Syria, but the Associated Press reports that the timing is very much up in the air:
Trump has signaled to his advisers that ideally, he wants all troops out within six months, according to three U.S. officials … The president made clear his patience was running out as he met top national security aides … Yet the meeting concluded with no hard-and-fast deadline … leaving Trump’s team struggling to deduce how fast is fast enough for Trump, according to officials briefed on the meeting who weren’t authorized to discuss it and requested anonymity.
Trump’s advisers spend an awful lot of time trying to “deduce” what Trump wants and what he means, don’t they?
* TRUMP IS THE GREATEST AT EVERYTHING, BELIEVE ME: Dana Milbank has a great column recapping many of Trump’s boasts about himself. Here’s a sample:
“Nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have … I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life … I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed … nobody knows more about trade than me … nobody respects women more than I do … nobody loves the Bible more than I do … nobody’s better to people with disabilities than me.”
And of course, all of that is neatly summed up with this one: “I have one of the great temperaments.”
* AND INSIDERS HAVE ‘UNUSUAL LEVEL OF CONCERN’ ABOUT TRUMP: Axios reports:
To White House insiders, this is the most dangerous phase of Donald Trump’s presidency so far. … Checks are being ignored or have been eliminated, and critics purged as the president is filling time by watching Fox, and by eating dinner with people who feed his ego and conspiracy theories. … Trump’s closest confidants speak with an unusual level of concern, even alarm, and admit to being confused about what the president will do next — and why.
Great job, Trump voters!