Trying to influence President Trump is a delicate dance combined with an inexact science. Competing advisers have fought over access to the Oval Office, believing that the last person to talk to Trump often wins. Confidants have taken to delivering their messages through cable news rather than in person, determining it to be more effective. Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) will gently nudge Trump on Twitter, even as close allies like him would usually keep their counsel private. But at all times, the message seems to be that care must be taken to get your message across without alienating Trump or looking like you’re criticizing him.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board apparently got that balance all wrong.
At his rally Thursday night in New Hampshire, Trump dedicated a portion of his speech to excoriating the Journal for questioning his China trade war. Here’s what Trump said:
Yet today the Wall Street Journal editorial board — and some others — continue to publish foolish articles that demonstrate that they understand nothing about trade or business. Nothing. They advocate only economic surrender. They actually say, ‘Go to China, take off the tariffs, make a deal.’ I lose all the cards, we take off the tariffs! We don’t have any cards! ...
But when the Wall Street Journal comes out and they say, ‘No no. Take the tariffs off. Go and talk to China.’ They’ve been talking to them for 25 years! But actually you know what? They really haven’t. The fact is, the leaders that were in my position, they didn’t do a damn thing. They didn’t talk, they didn’t talk. Past leaders followed the terrible advice of these editorial boards that are, frankly, totally inexperienced in business, I guess, and our industries were utterly decimated.
But here’s the thing: The editorial that apparently caught Trump’s ire? It actually took great pains not to blame Trump — almost laughably so. The headline was “The Navarro Recession, II” — referring to trade adviser Peter Navarro — and it doesn’t mention Trump until the fifth paragraph. It also repeatedly suggests that this is about the advice Trump is getting.
Some Trumpians are cheering the Chinese economy’s pain, but they should be careful what they wish for. They could drive China, the world’s second largest economy, into its first recession since Deng Xiaoping began the era of pro-market economic reform.
We’ve been warning for two years that trade wars have economic consequences, but the wizards of protectionism told Mr. Trump not to worry. The economy was fine and the trade worrywarts were wrong.
Yes, this is about those “wizards” rather than a president who has been talking about trade deficits for decades.
And at the end:
Someone should tell Mr. Trump that incumbent Presidents who preside over recessions within two years of an election rarely get a second term.
(For what it’s worth, this is true.)
Liam Donovan summed it up nicely:
The relationship between Trump and the Journal’s editorial board has always been somewhat fraught, given it skews conservative but holds fast to a more globalistic approach to trade. Many of its critiques have accordingly been as gentle as this one.
But much like Trump’s occasional feuds with Fox News, it shows how foolish a game this can sometimes be. Pretending the trade war was something foisted upon Trump by the likes of Navarro or that Trump has simply been ill-advised is to ignore everything he’s ever said about trade. Trump, in fact, is surrounded by many economic advisers who are demonstrated advocates of free trade. If anything, he’s pulled them into a trade war some of them had criticized before joining the White House.
So in the end, the Journal has apparently gotten the worst of both worlds. Maybe it should say what it really thinks.