President Donald Trump took the unprecedented step last night of accusing China of trying to interfere in the midterm elections. His rationale for this Chinese tariff on US goods. But it’s Trump who imposed tariffs first and it now appears he’s worried about the political consequences.
“China has openly stated that they are actively trying to impact and change our election by attacking our farmers, ranchers and industrial workers because of their loyalty to me,” Trump tweeted. “What China does not understand is that these people are great patriots and fully understand that […] China has been taking advantage of the United States on Trade for many years. They also know that I am the one that knows how to stop it. There will be great and fast economic retaliation against China if our farmers, rancher and/or industrial workers are targeted!”
Trump’s claim is an unusual one. His administration has imposed $200 billion in tariffs on China and spent much of his presidential election campaign slamming China for what he considers unfair trade practices. The Chinese have simply retaliated.
The idea that China is deliberately targeting Trump’s voters seems to be a misunderstanding of how tariffs and trade work. Trump has intentionally made Chinese products more expensive in the United States – tariffs are always paid by the citizens of the country that imposes them. Trump seems to think that he can impose tariffs but other countries can’t respond.
Meanwhile, Trump has still not acknowledged that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, despite the US intelligence community agreeing on the matter. Trump has previously suggested that China could be responsible for that interference, without evidence.
[Editor’s Note: Following the disastrous Helsinki press conference in which Trump sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue of election interference, POTUS read from prepared remarks in which he said he accepted the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment. At the same time, he ad-libbed that it “could be other people also.”]
Trump is blaming a trade war he started for potential losses in the midterms while misunderstanding both trade and election interference. The Trump administration may have underestimated China. It is unlikely the Chinese will blink first. Americans, including Trump voters, will continue to be hurt by Trump’s tariffs.