President Trump's trade war: Even conservatives think it's a terrible idea

When the Wall Street Editorial Board thinks the idea is terrible, you know you're straying from the GOP

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published March 2, 2018 8:02AM (EST)

Donald Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)
Donald Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)

President Donald Trump's announcement of new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports has caused him to alienate many of his core conservative supporters for the second time this week.

"Let's be clear: The president is proposing a massive tax increase on American families. Protectionism is weak, not strong. You'd expect a policy this bad from a leftist administration, not a supposedly Republican one," Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., declared after the announcement on Thursday.

He was joined by the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who expressed concern that Trump's tariffs would cause "a retaliation" because "agriculture is the No. 1 target. I think this is terribly counterproductive for the (agriculture) economy and I'm not very happy."

Even one of Trump's biggest supporters in Congress, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, had to admit to being "obviously concerned about retaliation and unintended consequences."

Cornyn added, "I'm also sympathetic to what he's been saying because we've been getting heat when it comes to our international trade relationships. So we need to scrutinize and see if they're in America's best interests and I certainly support that but I need to look at the specifics."

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board was particularly scathing in its response to Trump's threat:

Mr. Trump seems not to understand that steel-using industries in the U.S. employ some 6.5 million Americans, while steel makers employ about 140,000. Transportation industries, including aircraft and autos, account for about 40% of domestic steel consumption, followed by packaging with 20% and building construction with 15%. All will have to pay higher prices, making them less competitive globally and in the U.S.

Instead of importing steel to make goods in America, many companies will simply import the finished product made from cheaper steel or aluminum abroad. Mr. Trump fancies himself the savior of the U.S. auto industry, but he might note that Ford Motor shares fell 3% Thursday and GM’s fell 4%. U.S. Steel gained 5.8%. Mr. Trump has handed a giant gift to foreign car makers, which will now have a cost advantage over Detroit. How do you think that will play in Michigan in 2020?

It's the second time in a week that Trump has managed to distance himself from his own conservative base. He also caused consternation from the right after a White House meeting on Wednesday in which he came out in support of gun control measures staunchly opposed by the NRA.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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