Trump, Trade, and the Fine Details

By Matthew McMullan
Feb 29 2016 |
The people will someday want details, Donald! | Photo by Gage Skidmore

The Donald doesn’t do policy specifics too often, but we’d love to hear more on trade policy.

The poll watchers have looked into their crystal balls, and here’s the verdict: Lots of people are prognosticating that Donald Trump is gonna win big on Super Tuesday. The Republican Party is freaking out. Lots of people are trying to explain it, many poorly. No one knows how to handle this, man!

Not here, though. At the Alliance for American manufacturing (AAM), all is calm. AAM is non-partisan. We don’t care who wins the presidency. Honestly! Imagine, for instance, if someone trained an ape to wear a suit, pose for photos, and swear to defend America’s constitutional democracy. An interesting idea, you think, sounds like a smart ape, but you’d still hesitate to support such a candidate without knowing more about their platform. Fair enough. But if this Citizen Ape outlined a policy plan to create more middle-income manufacturing sector jobs in the United States, AAM would at least give that plan a once-over.

Vote Ape in 2024

Such is our approach to all the candidates in 2016, and it remains our approach to Donald Trump as he pulls away from the field. Love him or hate him, this much is true: Trump has made a discussion of American trade policy a central pillar of his campaign. And what happens with trade policy has a lot to do with American manufacturing jobs.

AAM likes this discussion. AAM wants more of this discussion.

Here’s the problem: Trump has little use for specifics. It’s clear from his speeches that he considers trade an important issue, but! He’ll say one thing – that President Trump would slap a big tariff on all Chinese imports, for example – and then back away from it. Maybe this is just good campaign strategy; there’s a lot of things about Trump’s ascent that no one can explain. But when he has put some of his proposed trade policies in writing, skeptics have been all over it. Imposing Trump’s vision, rivals and some onlookers maintain, would cause a trade war. Here’s a blurb from a Politico article (unfortunately behind a paywall) that encapsulates this concern:

Trump's promise to strong-arm China into a negotiation to improve trade terms for the United States taps into the economic anxieties of many Americans concerned about the loss of manufacturing jobs and the country's huge trade deficit with China. But experts reject his assertion that the yuan is currently undervalued and worry his plan to slap hefty duties on Chinese exports would set off a damaging trade war.

Trump clearly doesn’t think a trade war is gonna happen. In an interview with fellow loud man Bill O’Reilly, Trump said, “people don’t understand; in our dealings with China, we have the cards, they don’t have the cards. We have the cards because they need our economy.”

And we’re inclined to agree. China has manipulated its currency in spurts for years – which is incredibly damaging to American manufacturers – but has quietly let its yuan appreciate while multiple attempts at anti-currency manipulation legislation advanced in Washington. None of that legislation caused a trade war. The same “trade war” warning gets thrown around any time Buy America legislation is considered, though we haven’t seen any trade wars there, either.

In fact, if we’re judging by the amount of manufacturing jobs lost to China, and America’s massive, sustained trade deficit, could be we’ve been in a trade war. Losing jobs and wealth to a rival. Sounds like a trade war to us!

But Trump talks the talk a lot on trade. And as he inches toward clinching the Republican nomination – and he may get a lot closer after the Super Tuesday votes are counted – we’ll be looking for more policy specifics.

Stay tough on trade, Donald Trump! But we want to hear even more of how you’d do so once in office.