"Shields and Salam on China tariff tit-for-tat, Scott Pruitt under fire" PBS NewsHour 4/6/2018
SUMMARY: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and National Review executive editor Reihan Salam join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Trump’s escalating calls for tariffs on Chinese imports, the decision to deploy the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, ethics concerns for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years after his death.
Judy Woodruff (NewsHour): From calling for a National Guard presence at the U.S.-Mexican border, to floating the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, the President’s announcements this week raised more questions than answers.
And that brings us to the analysis of Shields and Salam. That is indicated — syndicated…
Judy Woodruff: … columnist Mark Shields and “National Review” executive editor Reihan.
Reihan, welcome to the program.
And, Mark, you are more than indicated. You’re syndicated.
Mark Shields, syndicated columnist: Thank you.
Mark Shields: Part of the syndicate.
Judy Woodruff: So let’s start, Mark, with the lead tonight, and that is these mixed signals mining from the top of the administration over trade.
The President putting out the word, the White House, late last night that they were looking seriously at more taxes, more tariffs on China. And then the President’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, saying — today saying, well, no, no, we’re still in negotiations.
What are we to make of this? The President clearly wants to send some sort of signal to China.
Mark Shields: No question about it, Judy, and he has, I think it’s fair to say. Larry Kudlow is an interesting case.
I first ran into him, he was working on the anti-war campaign of Senator Gene McCarthy, a Democrat, then worked for Senator Edmund Muskie, a Democrat, and then became a supply-sider, free trader with Ronald Reagan, and is now whatever Donald Trump is economically, and one can’t be absolutely sure.
But I think his time is short, because he’s been cast as the interpreter of Donald Trump, and Donald Trump fancies himself the world’s greatest communicator, and he doesn’t need an interpreter.
But that having been said, I think it’s fair to say that China in the short run — in the long run, is in tougher shape on this than we are, because we’re a bigger share of their market. But in the short run, which is where we all live, especially in a November election and the Republican majorities hanging by a thread, I think the pressure will mount on Donald Trump politically from his own base.
These are red states particularly being felt on the soybeans and the retaliation by the Chinese. So I think that’s where it is politically. I mean, if you’re a Republican up for reelection this year — and I would just point that more Republicans have retired in the year 2018 than any year since 1930, which was the middle of the first Depression, which tells you something about how they see it.
You want to talk about tax cuts. That’s what you want to talk about. You don’t want to talk about trade and immigration and borders, quite frankly. And I think that’s where the President’s returned.
Judy Woodruff: Reihan, how do you see the calculus?
Reihan Salam, National Review: I disagree politically.
Mark raises a very good point when he says the Chinese have been shrewd. They are targeting Republican constituencies, rock-ribbed, middle-of-the-country, farm Republican constituencies, et cetera.
But there is also the fact that Donald Trump presented himself as a different kind of Republican. He was a sort of third-party candidate running under the Republican banner. And protectionism is an idea that is awfully popular with many people.
Now, when you’re talking about the negative impacts here, the thing is that sometimes we have a tendency to overstate them, because a lot of the negative impact is borne by companies that have relied on those supply chains, right?
But the thing is that, overall, think back to the Soviet grain embargo. You had a lot of farmers who said, yes, this is going to hurt me, but ultimately I support the policy.
You might wind up having a lot of people rally around the flag and saying that, yes, China, they engage in a lot of trade abuses, and this is something where they need to get clamped down. And so that’s why I think that, as opposed to tax cuts, which are a classically orthodox Republican thing to do, here Donald Trump left to his own devices is trying to do something a bit different that might be appealing to people who otherwise don’t vote Republican.
Judy Woodruff: But you don’t see mixed signals coming from the administration, or do you?
Reihan Salam: Oh, I absolutely see mixed signals.
So, part of this could be the savviness of, hey, this is my opening bid, and then I try to get something halfway, but there are definitely mixed signals.
Mark Shields: I respectfully disagree, in the sense that, if you want to go back to the grain embargo, you ask Democrats who lost their seats at that time under Jimmy Carter.
I do think, quite bluntly, that Donald Trump is playing Presidential politics, and he’s keeping his promise. He’s talking about his constituents. That’s why he returns to tariffs. That’s why he returns to the border and the hordes of rapists descending upon us, quite contrary to fact and reality.
But I don’t think, Judy, that this is helping Republicans, who are in an increasingly discouraging situation and condition heading into November 2018.