While his tariff announcement was in many ways a surprise, it also had a tinge of inevitability. According to current and former aides, who requested anonymity to speak freely, when Trump feels he has lost control of the narrative, he grasps at two issues: border security and trade. Those aides said he sees these topics as reset buttons, ways to rile both Democratic and Republican lawmakers and draw attention away from whatever dumpster fire is blazing in a given week. “Whenever a negative story comes around, his instinct is to pivot to immigration or trade,” a senior campaign adviser told me. “It’s kind of like his safety blanket. He knows that Fox and conservative media will immediately coalesce and change what the base is talking about.”That tactic often works: By the end of a week in which the lies of the White House’s representation of the Mueller report became more apparent than ever, reporters, pundits, and the stock market were all responding instead to Trump’s latest attempt to curb immigration at the southern border. (The Dow Jones closed Friday at four-month lows in response to the tariffs.)
[Trump’s] protectionist trade policies haven’t produced the kind of political boost in critical swing states that his backers are depending on. “Voter approval on trade policy appears to be no higher in key competitive states than in other states,” Goldman finds, “and overall presidential approval in those states has declined by more than the national average.”One reason why Trump’s trade policies haven’t lifted his approval rating is that, aside from the original $50 billion of tariffs on Chinese imports announced last June, voters have on balance disfavored every one of his subsequent trade actions, including recent tariffs on China. ... Voters’ disapproval is particularly severe when it comes to tariffs targeting U.S. allies such as Canada and Mexico.While the Goldman study doesn’t take into account Trump’s newest threat against Mexico or the possibility of penalties on Australian aluminum, there are several reasons to believe both acts would be highly unpopular.