Trump specifically went after Biden for his prior support of NAFTA and China’s entry into the WTO.
Donald Trump on Thursday formally accepted his party’s nomination for president, lambasting Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on a whole lot of things, including his trade record and his stance on China.
“Joe Biden is not the savior of America’s soul,” Trump said during his Republican National Convention address, which he gave on the South Lawn of the White House, breaking political norms. “He is the destroyer of America’s jobs.”
Those are some harsh words from the former reality star, but Trump's decision to go after Biden on trade wasn't much of a surprise. The two campaigns have been going after each other on trade, and in particular China, for months now. Trump obviously sees his go-it-alone record as one of his strengths, while Biden has been critical of Trump's strategy and says he would build an international coalition to take on China.
Here at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, we think the truth is probably somewhere in between. While Trump does deserve some credit for making China's unfair trade practices a presidential priority, his eventual "Phase 1" U.S.-China trade deal is completely inadequate in terms of acting addressing those practices. Key issues are left unresolved, including China's massive industrial subsidies, state-sponsored overcapacity, state-owned enterprises, predatory investments and enforcement mechanisms.
But let's be honest: Trump has never been a stickler for details. Rhetoric has always been his specialty, and he certainly unleashed it on Thursday.
In particular, Trump indicted Biden for his role in voting for the North American Free Trade Agreement and his support for China’s entry in the World Trade Organization (WTO), casting Biden’s record as “shameful roll call of the most catastrophic betrayals and blunders in our lifetime.”
“Biden voted for the NAFTA disaster, the single worst trade deal ever enacted. He supported China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, one of the greatest economic disasters of all time,” Trump said. “After those Biden calamities, the United States lost one in four manufacturing jobs. We laid off workers in Michigan, Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and many other states. They did not want to hear Biden’s hollow words of empathy. They wanted their jobs back.”
Trump also utilized his administration’s trade negotiations with China as central evidence of his commitment to the American people over politics.
“Washington insiders asked me not to stand up to China. They pleaded with me to let China continue stealing our jobs, ripping us off, and robbing our country blind,” Trump said. “But I kept my word to the American people. We took the toughest, boldest, strongest and hardest-hitting action against China in American history by far.”
In keeping with his tact so far in the 2020 campaign, Trump asserted that he could lead the country back to economic prosperity. The president promised to reshore the jobs America has lost via tax credits, tariffs and deregulation to “create 10 million jobs in the next 10 months” to “make America into the manufacturing superpower of the world” over the next four years, Trump said.
(It's worth pointing out here that although manufacturing has shown some signs of recovery from the initial devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, factories have lost 750,000 jobs in the past six months, and manufacturing is down 733,000 jobs since July 2019.)
Echoing Biden’s nomination acceptance speech last week, Trump also vowed to restore America’s domestic medical supply chain with the goal of ending dependence on China for critical goods.
“Bring home our medical supply chains, and we end our resilience for bad things, we will go right after China,” Trump said. “We will not rely on them one bit. We are taking our business out of China. We are bringing it home.”
Largely absent from Trump’s speech was infrastructure, which Biden made a centerpiece of his own nomination speech.
Trump wasn't the only speaker who talked about manufacturing on Thursday.
Debbie Flood, president of Wisconsin architectural hardware and castings manufacturer Melron Corp., credited President Trump with the revitalization of her business in the wake of colossal offshoring to China, when the country entered the WTO in 2001, and attacked Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s trade record.
“When we lost nearly 50 percent of our business in the mid-2000s to China, we wondered how a small company like ours could continue to compete,” Flood said. “At that time, Joe Biden was a senator. He voted to normalize trade with China and helped pave the way for them to join the WTO even though they were hurting American companies like ours.”
Flood praised President Trump for implementing “pro-business and pro-worker policies,” especially tax cuts and deregulation.
“Then Donald Trump was elected, and we breathed a sigh of relief. He actually fought for American workers and American craftsmen. He actually cared about brining back those three beautiful words: Made in America,” Flood said.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), rumored to be a possible 2024 presidential candidate, also made his way to the RNC stage Thursday with a speech that reinforced the Trump campaign’s attempted contrast of Trump and Biden’s stance on China – in addition to attacks on Biden’s foreign policy record.
“Joe Biden aided and abetted China’s rise for 50 years with terrible trade deals that closed our factories and laid off our workers. President Trump stands up to China’s cheating and stealing and lying,” Cotton said. “President Trump is cleareyed about the Chinese threat, and he’s making China pay. But China’s not giving up. In fact, they’re rooting for Joe Biden.”
That's a wrap on the two 2020 political conventions. Trump and Biden are expected to square off in three debates in the coming months, and we expect manufacturing and trade issues will come up.
We'll be watching.