When it comes to the administration’s trade policies, Trump World is deeply divided. Many of the president’s top advisers on the economy, foreign pollicy, and national security teams have urged him not to impose new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. On the other hand, Donald Trump himself seems to like the idea, as do some in the Commerce Department.
The divisions were on display early yesterday when competing White House factions sent wildly contradictory signals to the press about what the president would do.
Overnight, however, Trump made clear to the public that he’d picked a side, announcing that he not only wants to start an international trade war, he also believes “trade wars are good and easy to win.”
What we didn’t know was that this president – who has an astonishing habit of blindsiding his own team with surprise policy pronouncements – made this decision “without any internal review by government lawyers or his own staff.” In fact, NBC News reports today that Trump announced his decision after a meeting with executives from the aluminum and steel industries.
There were no prepared, approved remarks for the president to give at the planned meeting, there was no diplomatic strategy for how to alert foreign trade partners, there was no legislative strategy in place for informing Congress and no agreed upon communications plan beyond an email cobbled together by [Secretary Wilbur Ross’s] team at the Commerce Department late Wednesday that had not been approved by the White House.
No one at the State Department, the Treasury Department or the Defense Department had been told that a new policy was about to be announced or given an opportunity to weigh in in advance.
Behold, Trump’s fine-tuned machine.
But just as interesting is the behind-the-scenes drama that precipitated the president’s decision. NBC News’ report added that Trump’s choice to launch a potential trade war “was born out of anger at other simmering issues,” including Hope Hicks’ testimony to Congress about the Russia scandal.
The circumstances reportedly left the Republican “unglued,” according to an NBC source familiar with the president’s state of mind.
So we’re left with an erratic, amateur president launching a trade war while feeling overwhelmed by scandals and White House chaos. How reassuring.
Postscript: How amateurish was the process this week? The NBC News report added that Ross hadn’t informed the White House in advance of the steel and aluminum executives he’d invited to yesterday’s meeting. “As a result, White House officials were unable to conduct a background check on the executives to make sure they were appropriate for the president to meet with and they were not able to be cleared for entry by secret service. According to a person with direct knowledge, even White House chief of staff John Kelly was unaware of their names.”