Those who know Donald Trump say it was always going to go this way with China.
The New York real estate tycoon began issuing bitter tirades against foreign countries “ripping off” the United States on trade back in the 1980s. At an expletive-laden political rally in Las Vegas in 2011, Trump hinted at a future presidential campaign and promised to tell the Chinese: “Listen you motherfuckers we’re going to tax you 25 percent!”
So when the clock flipped to 12:01 a.m. on Friday morning and the U.S. fired the first major shot in a trade war with China that has Wall Street and corporate America petrified, those who know the president mostly shrugged it off as Trump doing what he was always going to do, no matter the dire warnings from his “globalist” advisers.
“I always believed he was deadly serious about China from the very beginning,” said Stephen Moore, a conservative economist and outside White House adviser, recalling his time with Trump during the campaign. “I’m not at all surprised that we’ve come to this point. I am a little surprised that China hasn’t been more conciliatory. But I think Trump can’t back down, he just can’t. He has to stand toe to toe with China.”
But now that Trump is deep into the trade fight he desperately wanted, there’s no clear exit strategy and no explicit plans to negotiate new rules of the road with China, leaving the global trade community and financial markets wracked with uncertainty. As cargo ships head to ports in China with U.S. exports and Chinese ships head to U.S. ports, the new tariffs threaten to disrupt the established economic world order in ways that will soon cause pain for American and Chinese consumers.