Donald Trump’s spontaneous threat to impose huge tariffs on steel and aluminum smacks of the kind of nationalism that appeals to his base. It’s another campaign promise, like the border wall, that he runs to when things get hot in the Oval Office. And last week was downright blistering in Washington.
It included this classic Trumpism: Actual experts on the economy who lean to tariffs as an easy fix — a minority, to be sure — had bandied about a 24 percent tariff on imported steel. Trump changed that to 25 percent because, he said, it’s an even number.
The immediate reaction to Trump’s announcement was met with retaliatory threats from Europe of similar tariffs on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, bourbon whiskey and blue jeans. And nothing says America like Harleys, bourbon and blue jeans.
It might come to a surprise to no one that Trump is schedule to speak next week in former Big Steel country. He will campaign for Republican Rep. Rick Saccone, a candidate for the 18th District special congressional election in Pennsylvania on March 13. The seat was vacated by married pro-life politician Rep. Tim Murphy, who was involved in a sex scandal and then asked his girlfriend to have an abortion.
Another eyebrow-raising event coincided with Trump’s announcement: A regulatory filing disclosed, longtime friend and former presidential adviser Carl Icahn dumped $31.1 million in shares last week in a Wisconsin company that relies heavily on steel to make its products.
The Trump administration sent Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on television news shows to promote the tariff threat. The 80-year-old billionaire, who is reported to nap during meetings, held up a Campbell Soup can to explain how this action would not threaten the pocketbooks of Americans. One wonders how many cans of chicken soup Ross enjoys.
For its part, Campbell Soup was not amused. “Any new broad-based tariffs on imported tin plate steel — an insufficient amount of which is produced in the U.S. — will result in higher prices on one of the safest and more affordable parts of the food supply,” the company told CNBC.
Sweden’s Electrolux, Europe’s largest home appliance maker, said the tariff could damage its business competitiveness in the United States. It said it would delay a planned $250 million investment in its Tennessee plant.
Trump campaigned as a businessman, but a market-disrupting move like a trade war defies his intellectual capacity. The Bronx-born real estate developer seems to have little acumen for global trade.