As the trade deficit soars, Trump fails by his own metric

A Hanjin Shipping Co. ship is seen stranded outside the Port of Long Beach, Calif. on Sept. 8, 2016. (Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
A Hanjin Shipping Co. ship is seen stranded outside the Port of Long Beach, Calif. on Sept. 8, 2016.

Donald Trump has long been obsessed with the nation's trade deficit. I'm not at all sure he knows what those words mean -- he frequently talks about the trade deficit in a way that suggests he's badly confused -- but the president has nevertheless labeled it an economic scourge that he's determined to address.

Indeed, in late July, the Republican assured Fox News that, thanks to the wisdom of his economic agenda, the U.S. trade deficit would soon be cut in half.

Yeah, about that....

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that -- despite more than two years of President Trump's "America First" policies -- the United States last year posted a $891.2 billion merchandise trade deficit, the largest in the nation's 243-year history.The trade gap with China also hit a record $419 billion, underscoring the stakes for the president's bid to reach a deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping as soon as this month.

Keep in in mind, just last week, the Republican boasted to reporters in Hanoi, "You saw trade deficits went down last month and everyone's trying to figure out why. Well, we're taking a lot of tariff money. And it has reduced the trade deficit."

Not in this reality is hasn't. In fact. six days later, Trump's rhetoric looks even more ridiculous. As Glenn Kessler explained the other day, "The president keeps seizing on scraps of data -- a month here or a quarter there -- to falsely claim the trade deficit is being reduced. But over the course of the year, it kept growing. Attributing a small one-month shift to tariffs is especially silly."

If Trump wanted to argue that the trade deficit isn't especially important, that would be fine. If he wanted to argue that president's have limited control over the trade deficit, that would work, too.

But the president has gone out of his way to do the exact opposite -- telling the public that the trade deficit is critically important and he knows just what to do to reduce it. At times, the Republican has even felt the need to lie in order to pretend he's succeeding in reaching one of his most cherished goals.

Reality, however, has intervened. Trump isn't just failing by his critics' standards; when it comes to trade, he's now failing by his own standards.