There was a great moment at a White House press briefing this week, when a reporter asked Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, about Donald Trump's trade policy. "Tariffs are, in effect, are tax on imported products that are paid for by the consumer," a reporter noted. "So does the president realize that these escalated tariffs are going to be paid for by the American citizens?"
Kudlow replied, "Well, look, he realizes the ramifications."
Kudlow couldn't say with a straight face, "Of course the president understands his own trade agenda," because he -- like the rest of us -- knows that plainly isn't true.
And yet, Trump can't seem to stop himself from flaunting his confusion.
A week ago, on Thanksgiving, Trump boasted, "Now, as of already, we're taking in -- right now, we're taking in billions. China is -- people don't understand this: China is right now paying us -- right now, paying us billions of dollars a month. That's never happened before." He repeated the line in separate interviews with the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, and then again this morning in a tweet:
"Billions of Dollars are pouring into the coffers of the U.S.A. because of the Tariffs being charged to China, and there is a long way to go."
I get the sense Trump genuinely believes this, which is a shame because it's ridiculously wrong. 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."
As Trump gets ready to attend the G-20 summit, which will include trade talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, it's a problem that Trump doesn't understand trade policy, but it's a far bigger problem that Trump doesn't realize how ignorant he is.
On the contrary, the president thinks he's an expert.
Trump recently boasted, in reference to trade policy, "I understand that issue better than anybody." Several days ago, the president added, "I know every ingredient. I know every stat. I know it better than anybody knows it."
I wish that were true. It's not. Trump's signature issue happens to be one of his worst. In his Wall Street Journal interview, the president managed to get effectively every relevant detail about trade policy wrong. His interview this week with the Washington Post was nearly as bad.
A Washington Post analysis in April explained, "On trade, Trump either doesn't understand the basic facts or he doesn't care."
Is it too late for the president to cancel his G-20 appearance?