President Donald Trump is taking his trade policy on the road this week. But the reception he is set to receive in a series of crucial 2018 states may not be what he had hoped.
A series of threatening trade wars have become a weight on the President and Republicans across the country, leading to innumerable negative headlines and general anxiousness about what a spat with China, the European Union or even Canada and Mexico will mean to long established industries in the United States that employ thousands of workers.
Trump is set to travel to South Carolina, North Dakota and Wisconsin this week, all states with significant industries impacted by proposed retaliatory tariffs against American products. The President has been confident that his trade rhetoric would help American industries – “Trade wars are good and easy to win,” he has said – but the uncertainty created has left Republicans worried that they will end up paying the price at the ballot box in November.
“It’s not lost on us,” said a top Republican operative involved in the midterms, “that the trade agenda could turn into a total debacle that would far outweigh the economic benefits of tax reform.”
The most recent flashpoint in the nationwide debate over trade is taking place in Wisconsin, where the iconic motorcycle company Harley-Davidson announced on Monday that they were shifting some production of motorcycles for European customers out of the United States to avoid European Union retaliatory tariffs. The company said they stood to lose up to $100 million a year if they continued to produce all bikes in the United States.
In response to American tariffs on European steel and aluminum, the EU announced earlier this month that they would begin imposing tariffs on motorcycles, orange juice, bourbon, peanut butter, motorboats, cigarettes and denim, all iconic American products, some of which have direct ties to critically important political area.
Harley-Davidson’s departure exemplifies what voters have said worries them about trade wars: They are always a zero-sum game, where tariffs are met with more tariffs and both sides lose.
A recent Marquette University Law School found a majority of Wisconsin voters – 51% – said that trade deals have been a “good thing” for the United States. Only 28% said they were a bad thing, while 20% said they didn’t know.
Trump is set to campaign Monday night for Gov. Henry McMaster, who has had to fight off a surprising primary challenge from John Warren, a 39-year-old businessman and veteran.
But the trade headlines in the state have not been sunny. “Tariffs rattle South Carolina’s manufacturing supply chain,” read a headline from The Greenville News about uncertainty around a multi-million-dollar BMW facility in Greer, South Carolina that now faces the imposition of tariffs.
Mark Sanford, the South Carolina congressman who unexpectedly lost in a Republican primary earlier this month because he was not loyal enough to Trump, also penned an editorial blasting the administration’s trade policies.
“President Donald Trump will receive a warm welcome from state Republicans on Monday when he travels to South Carolina to endorse Gov. Henry McMaster,” Sanford wrote in the Post and Courier. “His trade policies shouldn’t.”
It’s a similar story in North Dakota, where Trump will travel to on Wednesday to rally with Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is looking to defeat endangered Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in November.
Cramer has tried to take a middle-of-the-road approach to Trump’s trade policy, applauding him for standing up to countries like China but publicly fretting what they will mean to the state.
“I would like to see the President take a more measured approach as the impulse of position has created unnecessary turmoil for our markets,” he said in April, after the President rolled out proposed tariffs on China.
Heitkamp, his opponent, has seized on the issue, telling farmers in the state earlier this month that it may be time to “rethink” the breadth of authority given to the President on trade.
And the headlines have been just as bad, noting that agriculture, one of the sectors facing tariffs, is key to North Dakota.
“President Donald Trump’s insistence on creating balance with the nation’s trading partners could come back and bite North Dakota hard,” read an editorial from The Bismark Tribune.
And then, in Wisconsin, Trump will headline a fundraiser with the Republican National Committee that is expected to raise over $3 million.
But Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, lambasted Trump for taking actions that led Harley-Davidson to move production.
“Unfortunately, this confirms my concerns and is a far too predictable outcome of policies that give companies like Harley-Davidson incentives to make their products elsewhere,” he said in a statement. “We need to hold China accountable for its trade abuses, but that does not need to come at the expense of American workers and businesses.”