AMAC Exclusive – By Seamus Brennan
This month marks the four-year anniversary of the first major tariffs imposed by the Trump administration, which have markedly and perhaps permanently changed the economic and foreign policy trajectories of the Republican Party and the country. While Trump rankled many within the old-guard GOP establishment with his use of tariffs, such policies actually harken back to the very beginning of both the Republican Party and the American political tradition itself, and as such, represent a return to the historical roots of each.
Trump’s own rhetoric seemed to recognize or at least reflect this. In 2018, he took to Twitter to declare himself a “Tariff Man,” a title that echoes Republican President William McKinley’s 1896 assertion that he was “a tariff man standing on a tariff platform.” Now, thanks to Trump, the GOP is once again becoming the tariff party – and that’s good news for America’s workers and industry.
The extent to which Trump transformed the Republican Party over the last six years is difficult to understate. Since he entered the national political spotlight in 2015, there is little doubt that his ironclad focus on subjects like illegal immigration and law and order—as well as his vocal opposition to progressive culture war issues—has realigned the conservative movement with a strict ‘America First’ philosophy, guiding the GOP in a more populist direction. But amid all these hot-button issues, the former president’s reintroduction of tariffs into our national trade policy often gets lost in the mix.
Trump’s pro-tariff campaign platform in 2016 sent shivers down the spines of many purported economic “experts” and free trade absolutists who claimed that tariffs would mark a departure from traditional conservative trade policy. In reality, however, it signaled a return to the beginnings of the American conservative movement rather than a departure from it. From 1790 to 1914, tariffs made up the main source of federal revenue and served as an indispensable component of American domestic and foreign policy. In fact, the first major piece of legislation passed in the United States after the ratification of the Constitution was the Tariff Act of 1789, which was enacted in large part to protect emerging American manufacturing industries.
As Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, former U.S. Trade Representative under President Trump, observed in the early 2010s, “For most of its [then-]157-year history, the Republican Party has been the party of building domestic industry by using trade policy to promote U.S. exports and fend off unfairly traded imports. American conservatives have had that view for even longer.” From Alexander Hamilton to Presidents William McKinley and Calvin Coolidge, tariffs and other protectionist economic policies have long been defining elements of the American conservative tradition.
And come 2016, after decades of economic failures wrought by a dogmatic and unquestioning Republican commitment to so-called “free trade”, the Trump administration’s tariff-based approach sought to return the party to its roots. As Trump understood, tariffs are effective not only in that they force other countries to pay for access to the U.S. market but also in that they bring manufacturing back to the United States and protect the economic interests of America’s workers.
Throughout his four years in office, Trump imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of foreign goods, notably targeting China, with whom the United States’ trade deficit had exploded over the previous two decades. He also levied tariffs on all foreign steel and aluminum, though gradually used that as negotiating leverage and granted certain nations exemptions. Trump also negotiated with Japan to reduce their barriers to American exports and open its market to $7 billion in American agricultural products.
Despite the conventional wisdom of the Washington “expert” class that these tariffs would harm the American consumer and send the economy to the brink of ruin, the facts paint a decidedly different picture. Notwithstanding the onslaught of headlines that insisted Trump’s tariffs would “Hurt America More Than China” and “hurt [the] U.S. economy rather than benefit American workers,” research has found that the vast majority of the Trump administration’s tariffs against Chinese goods were paid by the Chinese rather than the American consumer. As Peter Navarro, former Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy in the Trump White House, explained, China paid for the tariffs in three ways: by “cutting their prices,” crushing their currency value, and a “fleeing” supply chain. And as Ambassador Lighthizer recently observed in The Economist, “The backlash from farmers and others that was predicted by pundits never happened.”
Furthermore, the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration triggered an exodus of American companies out of China, a definite benefit given the new era of competition between the two countries. Now, even Joe Biden’s Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo has been forced to concede that Trump’s tariffs were “effective” in their protection of American manufacturing industries. And as the U.S. continues to reel from the largest supply chain crisis in American history, apparently caused by COVID disruptions as well as a variety of Biden administration policies, the need to bring supply chains back to American shores is even more clear.
Following the successes of Trump’s restoration of tariffs to the center of American foreign and economic policy, the GOP cannot afford to lose sight of the gift he gave the party in returning it to its roots. Rather than remaining inflexibly tied to the international trade policies that have sparked decades’ worth of American economic decay and led to a hollowing out of our manufacturing industry and the loss of millions of jobs, they should follow President Trump’s America First economic model of low taxes on Americans and increased tariffs on foreign producers. It will be good for workers, good for families, good for jobs, and good for the Republican Party.
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Do not agree with this article. Trump tariffs have cost Americans $100Billion in extra costs that America pays for the goods. China just raised prices including tariffs so that America consumer pays this. Trump at one time said this Tariff added hundreds of billions to our treasurey & I ask how did this money get into our treasury — therefore I think Trump did not tell the truth about tariffs. Trump was out in a tariff world that he did not know or understand like he claims.
Americans would be shocked at many items come into this country “duty-free”.
Worked as a import/export manager for several years. Also, at one time the United States government only needed duties to operate.
Problem is that they are not Trump and most of them have no idea how to put Americans first
To save on costs, US currency is now printed in China.
Communist China uses the profits from the sale of goods to the US to build 1000 under ground ICBM silos with missiles aimed at the US. If you buy something made in China, you are supporting this and the Commies that gave the world Covid-19. The US needs to get out of China. Having a Tariff on all goods from China is a good start. I suggest increasing by 10% on the first day of each month until all US corporations are out of China. China needs to pay compensation to the world for damages caused by their Covid-19.
It would be nice to get all American companies out of China, but one must remember that the American consumer is the one paying the tariffs & raising cost of these goods at the stores.
It is beyond sad for America that our education system has literally spent decades teaching Communism, rather than the true factual basis of our country and policies. Tariffs protect AMERICA. But you never see the Communists explain this. They were the ones who instituted the “Income Tax”. They wanted the ability to dip their greedy, corrupt hands into OUR pockets and steal whatever amount they desired. The goal was to GROW GOVERNMENT, and the Communist Party has spent a century doing just that. With tariffs as the basis for funding government, politicians weren’t free to steal, bribe, and extort. Instead of the Navy to protect us, we now have hundreds of useless, Totalitarian, corrupt agencies and departments, doing everything except protecting Americans.
Trump was right. Tariffs were meant to fund government spending. Not taxation. The Left, as usual, has been lying to citizens.
We need to drastically downsize this voracious, maniacal, and insane government. Start with elimination of ALL welfare and foreign aid, until Americans whole.
Job outsourcing? The government sent millions of great high paying factory jobs overseas.
China is doing great. We are a debtor nation. I don’t think that’s a good thing?
President Donald J. Trump, showed the Republicans how to win, so we would be wise to rally around his and forget the petty stuff like his tweets, the last year has proven that his policies were sound, and the economy grow, and Constitutional Rights were safe under President Trump, and the RNC needs to put a muzzle on Trump haters like Rummy Romney, Murkowski, Collins, and Cheney, speaking of Cheney, the state of Wyoming needs to throw he out, Since she has been in Congress she has not accomplice one thing of value, she is a Wolf in sheep’s clothing, and the rest of the country knows how close you are to your sheep if you return her to Congress, I would encourage people to boycott Wyoming.
second word second line HIM
Auto correct is my worst enema
I am glad that we have checks & balances in Government. I am glad that these people vote for what is best for America and not vote for things just cuz their party wants them to. We must get back to non-partisan Congress to keep America great.
Yes & of Ideas, action, populisim alone to WIN Long Term
Tariffs work, there once was a time when there was no income tax and the government used to finance its budget primarily out of tariffs on foreign goods before IRS, free trade agreements, job outsourcing, fiat currency, national hyper debt, and hyperinflation.
My opinion, tariffs do not work & that Trump alienated China & Canada by doing so. And these tariffs cost US consumer more for goods.
The establishment Republican Party became the party of the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable a long time ago. Whatever those two organizations wanted, that represent primary the Fortune 100 multi-national companies, the establishment wing of Republican Party supported. Which is why the message of the GOP got weaker and weaker over time. Only two U.S. GOP Presidents in the last 40 years ever pushed back and supported both small businesses and the individual over the interests of the CoC and the BR, that simply view the United States as one of many markets they serve. That was Reagan and Trump. Which is why both President were so hated by the establishment wing of the Republican Party.
Both Presidens understood the term economic warfare was real and ongoing between all nations on the global stage. Some more than others. It was not merely a term that was meaningless and that in order to ensure the American economy stayed strong and expanded over time, you could not simply off-shore tens of thousands of U.S. companies to various foreign countries with their millions of American jobs simply being allowed to go away as well. Yet the establishment wing of the Republican Party fought both Presidents nearly every step of the way on anything that would prioritize the American domestic economy over international markets.
Both Presidents understood that without a strong domestic economy, our standard of living would have to decline, our military readiness would have to decline, we would be less competitive on the world stage and we would lose influence on the world stage. None of which are of any particular concern to the Chamber of Commerce or Business Roundtable, as they view the United States as simply one of many markets their members do business in. If you don’t believe, simply read any annual 10-K statement from any of the Fortune 100 companies and they clearly spell out where their long-term focus is. Both of these organizations see nothing particularly concerning with a declining American economy and a growing Chinese economy. To them, all they see is a 330 million person market versus a 1.4 billion person market.
Free trade with third world countries was a lie thirty years ago and remains so today. Weve already endured a great reset, that being the transfer of our industry to china. As you often point out, people went along with it, eagerly buying chinese made products that were a bit cheaper. Country club Rs, with their pretensions of aristocracy, need to join the Ds, where they belong.
The concept of free trade is that both countries engaged in such bi-lateral trade would benefit on a pretty equal basis in terms of benefits to their respective economies. After all, no sane and rational person would engage in any sort of commerce where they were on the losing side of the deal time and time again. However, that hasn’t been how what Washington has called “free trade” been practiced in terms of China for the last three decades.
On our side since Bill Clinton ushered China’s access into the World Trade Organization (WTO), the relationship has essentially been one-sided where China would provide cheap labor and manufacturing of goods to western nations in exchange for China agreeing to open up China to American companies on terms set by China. This was followed by both G.W. Bush and Obama administrations marching in lockstep to the same bad terms and conditions. Thus tens of thousands of American and other western countries’ companies relocated their manufacturing operations to mainland China, where China demanded and received unlimited access to all the propritary reseach and intellectual property of those companies in order to gain access to the Chinese market.
All the millions of American jobs associated with those American companies that opted to off-shore to China were lost and and cost us collectively several trillion dollars over the past 3 decades. While China not only gained what amounted to trillions of dollars flowing into their country to modernize their economy and military, but also gained unfettered access to the intellectual property (IP) of every one of those western companies. So in decades China has gone from a country with a GDP of about $40 billion dollars a year in 1999 to the second largest economy on the planet with a GDP of over $18 trillion dollars a year. To call this arrangement lopsided would be a gross understatement. This is hardly a mutually beneficial agreement envisioned by anyone truly aware of what free trade is supposed to be about.
Up until President Trump was elected and decided this nonsense had to stop, the establishment wing of both political parties in this country were prefectly content to continue this business as usual relationship with China. The CoC and the BR funneled millions in campaign donations to both parties, so the politicians did nothing to rectify the situation other than make an ocassional empty speech here and there. That is why the establishment wing of both parties wanted to oust President Trump from office and why they wanted to do so in such a way as to discourage any outsider from ever daring to run for the Presidency again. What they want is for the American people to go back to accepting career politicians, with no real concern for the average person in this country, so the gravy train can continue until the Chinese decide they no longer have to play nice with the rest of the world.
Wow. My friend you are a treasure and not just because im in essential aggreement. You seem to have facts at your fingertips that morbious would need to put on the krell helmet to access. If i could add anything its that both parties sold out their country when the price got high enough. Many thanks.
Precisely, Paul. The same way they hounded Reagan….Both Parties long ago became enemies of America. In fact, China, republicans, and democrat Communists should all be reinstated to our “Enemies List”.
Review some of the things that we import & you will find that USA does not have that certain item or material & must get from another country. A couple examples are how many aluminum mines are operating in US today & then think of the past years when our farmers were able to keep operating because of imports to foreign countries. Trump tariffs really hurt America farmers & suppliers to farmers.
And if our populace was educated in fact and even halfway intelligent, this lie of “free trade” would have proven true long ago. Ross Perot back in the 70s knew exactly where it would lead, “a great sucking sound of all of America’s wealth leaving the country”.
Tariffs protect us by controlling everyone else.
Excellent comments on the article. These facts about foreign trade, tariffs, and our economy are the reason I was glad to use my first opportunity to vote in a presidential election to send Jimmy Carter into early retirement! Learned about this stuff from a conservative government teacher in high school. Bet they don’t teach it like that anymore.
Paulie, you NEED to put this and your next comment on Facebook, you tube, twitter. EVERYWHERE possible. I now have a better understanding of what has been wrong with the Republicans all these years by not backing President Reagan and President Trump. Thank you so much for your intelligent inputs which I always agree with and completely enjoy and learn so much. But now, I realize how much we NEED President Trump and ASAP. We the People have to stand up to this evil but it is ONLY by the hand of God that it has taken all these years for evil to get this far. I pray that God has mercy on us and steps in to heal our land. Otherwise, our country is doomed.