File photo taken in November 2017 shows U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
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Trump suggests the tariffs he’s bragged about don’t actually exist

Updated

Donald Trump has spent much of the year defending his controversial policy on trade tariffs, which hasn’t always been easy. The president has acknowledged, for example, that his trade tariffs have taken a toll on many farmers – whom Trump has sought to mollify with a bailout package – and other business leaders.

Yesterday, however, the Republican sat down with the Wall Street Journal and suggested the tariffs he’s spoken about for months may not actually exist.

“We don’t even have tariffs. I’m using tariffs to negotiate,” the president said, describing the tariffs on steel and aluminum he imposed this year as “small.”

The U.S. this year imposed tariffs on steel, aluminum, washers and solar panels, as well as tariffs on an additional $250 billion of Chinese imports. Some businesses have supported the tariffs, but many have said they hurt their profits and could lead to higher prices for customers.

“Where do we have tariffs? We don’t have tariffs anywhere,” Mr. Trump said when asked about the risks tariffs pose to the economy. “You know what happens? A business that’s doing badly always likes to blame Trump and the tariffs, because it’s a good excuse for some incompetent guy that’s making $25 million a year.”

This is getting a little confusing. Last month, Trump released a video via social media in which he said Americans are “taking in a lot of money” as a result of his tariffs.

Two weeks earlier, the president said the same thing, arguing at a White House event that thanks to his tariffs, there’s “a lot of money coming into the coffers of the United States of America. A lot of money coming in.”

Part of the problem, as regular readers know, is that Trump doesn’t seem to understand what tariffs are or how his administration’s policy works.

There is no foreign money “coming into the coffers of the United States” as a result of the tariffs. As Politico recently explained, “President Donald Trump said Monday that China is paying the U.S. billions of dollars in tariffs as he ramps up his trade war with Beijing. But that’s inaccurate: American consumers and businesses are the ones who will be paying higher costs for imports after he slapped penalties on $200 billion in Chinese goods.”

And yet, there was Trump yesterday morning, arguing via Twitter, “Billions of dollars are, and will be, coming into United States coffers because of Tariffs.” It was just hours later that the same president, talking about the same subject, said, “We don’t even have tariffs…. Where do we have tariffs? We don’t have tariffs anywhere.”

I imagine much of the country is accustomed to some routine incoherence from Donald Trump, but this latest pitch is head-spinning, even for him.