NAFTA bad. USMCA good.
The brand-new USMCA has one key attribute that’s sure to make President Donald Trump quite happy: It’s not called NAFTA.
“It’s my great honor to announce we have successfully completed negotiations on a brand new deal to terminate and replace Nafta and the Nafta trade agreements with an incredible new US, Mexico Canada Agreement called USMCA. It sort of just works. USMCA,” he said, announcing the development in the Rose Garden Monday.
We’ve only just been introduced to this new trade deal and economists the nation over are figuring out how exactly the USMCA differs from the North American Free Trade Agreement. Is it a complete rewriting or an update around the edges to bring the agreement into the digital age? That’s something you’ll hear a lot about in the coming days.
Throughout his business and political career, Trump has proven repeatedly that what something is called is of the utmost importance to him.
For instance, last week, when it was not at all clear Canada would join the deal, which was in the final stages of negotiations, Trump was asked repeatedly a very specific question about whether if he’d pull out of NAFTA if talks broke down.
He very specifically did not answer that question, instead pledging to call the trade deal something new.
Reporter: So will you pull out?
Trump: I’m not going to use the name NAFTA. I refuse to use it. I’ve seen thousands and plants and factories close. I’ve seen millions of jobs lost to auto companies that move. Mexico has 25% of our auto business now because of NAFTA. Under our deal, not going to happen any more. Hate to tell you, it’s not. We’re going to keep companies.
I told the Mexicans, we have to keep companies, but they’re getting a lot also. They’re getting other things. They’re got getting a lot of good things. Mexico made a very good deal. But with Canada, it’s very if we made a deal with Canada, which is a – you know, good chance still, but I’m not making anything near what they want to do.
Reporter: But are you going to notify Congress you’re pulling out of NAFTA?
Trump: What we’re probably going to do is call it the USMC, like the United States Marine Corps, which I love. General Kelly likes it even more. Where is General Kelly? He likes that. USMC. Which would be US, Mexico, Canada.
Earlier, he had threatened to call it the USMA if Canada didn’t do more to open its markets to US dairy farmers.
It’s a boon for Trump as a deal-maker that he was able to get the renegotiation part done without the promised termination, but the rebranding – Trump Business 101– is key.
This is not a secret about Trump.
Former President Barack Obama joked at a fundraiser over the summer that during the transition between administrations he asked Trump to rebrand Obamacare.
“I said to the incoming president, ‘Just change the name and claim that you made these wonderful changes and I would be like, “You go,”’” he said to laughs. “Because I didn’t have pride of authorship, I just wanted people to have health care.”
Trump didn’t exactly do that – Republicans tried in vain to repeal the law. Failing that, Trump sought to sabotage it, at one point cutting off payments the government had agreed to make to insurers for covering high-cost patients. That move, which he admitted at the time would lead to difficulties in the market, also allowed him to argue that Obamacare was over.
“Obamacare is finished. It’s dead. It’s gone. You shouldn’t even mention it. It’s gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore,” he said during a Cabinet meeting in October 2017.
Months later, while most of the guts of Obamacare remained on the books, Trump was able to argue that by zeroing out the penalty Americans would have to pay for not obtaining health insurance under the law, he had essentially replaced it. That change was achieved in the tax law bill that along with the prospect of renegotiating NAFTA is a key economic accomplishment of Trump and his administration, was enough for Trump to say Obamacare was repealed.
“The individual mandate is being repealed,” he sad at an event celebrating the Republican tax bill in December. “When the individual mandate is being repealed, that means Obamacare is repealed.”
About that tax bill. There is plenty of reporting on Trump’s involvement in what to call it. His very serious desire was to dub it the “Cut, Cut, Cut” bill. That didn’t go over with a lot of Republican leaders who wanted it to appear like a larger tax reform effort as opposed to simply tax cuts.
Trump has repeatedly (and incorrectly) continued to call the bill the largest tax cut in history. He wants that to stick in people’s minds regardless of whether it’s true.
He’s called the news media “fake news” enough to make the term almost ubiquitous, almost like a reflex, even among Americans who respect the news media.
Troubled and threatened by the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference, he’s rebranded that, to some success, as a “witch hunt.” “Witch hunt” rolls off the tongue. Special counsel investigation does not.
He’d very much like to build a wall along the border with Mexico, although having been rebuffed by Mexico, who he used to promise would pay for it, and largely stiffed so far by Congress, which hasn’t given him the money, that process has gone slowly. The world over, most people might think of it as Trump’s wall, but he’d actually like to call it that, or at least he used to say that during the campaign.
“I want it to be so beautiful because maybe someday they’ll call it the ‘Trump Wall,’” he said in New Hampshire in 2015. “Maybe. So I have to make sure it’s beautiful, right? I’ll be very proud of that wall. If they call at this the ‘Trump Wall,’ it has to be beautiful.”
And why not, really?
His home outside the White House is in a skyscraper that bears his name in New York City. When he dines outside the White House, it’s often at the steakhouse in a hotel that bears his name. When he golfs, it’s at a course that bears his name. A good chunk of his fortune comes from simply placing his name on things.
The name-on-something strategy matters to Trump. Being able to brag about replacing NAFTA will make him very happy.