Kevin Hassett, the conservative economist who chairs Donald Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, probably isn’t an enthusiastic fan of the president’s trade tariffs. After all, the policy does fly in the face of everything conservative economists have said about trade for many years.
It was therefore amusing when Hassett appeared on CNN late last week and was asked whether he believes Trump’s tariffs will “hurt or help the U.S. economy.” He replied that his advice on the issue “needs to be protected by executive privilege.”
I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a White House official claim executive privilege during a television interview, but these are strange times.
As for the answer to the underlying question, Trump seems confident he’s on the right track. The president said at an event last week, in reference to his policy on tariffs, “Frankly, the smart people love it.”
Those Trump considers “smart” appear to be in short supply. The New York Times reported over the weekend:
General Motors warned Friday that if President Trump pushed ahead with another wave of tariffs, the move could backfire, leading to “less investment, fewer jobs and lower wages” for its employees.
The automaker said that the president’s threat to impose tariffs on imports of cars and car parts – along with an earlier spate of penalties – could drive vehicle prices up by thousands of dollars. The “hardest hit” cars, General Motors said in comments submitted to the Commerce Department, are likely to be the ones bought by consumers who can least afford an increase. Demand would suffer and production would slow, all of which “could lead to a smaller G.M.”
Yesterday, BMW warned that the administration’s tariff plans may also risk jobs in South Carolina.
If recent history is any guide, Trump will now shift his focus from whining about Harley-Davidson to whining about GM and BMW.
As for the bigger picture, it’s not just American business leaders ringing the alarm over the White House’s approach. The New York Times reported a month ago on a White House economic analysis of the policy that “concluded that Mr. Trump’s tariffs will hurt economic growth in the United States.”
Meanwhile, Gary Cohn, the former director of Trump’s White House National Economic Council, said last month he’s concerned that the impact of the president’s tariffs could very well wipe out the intended benefits of the Republican tax plan.
The search for Trump’s “smart people” who “love” his agenda continues.