We should by now be used to Trump’s modus operandi. But we aren’t. We should all know the art of his deals. But we don’t. He is the counterpuncher who quite often smacks first and then retreats. Look at the tariffs story now unfolding. It goes like this: Trump makes fierce opening gambit. This shocks everybody apart from his supporters who say that that is exactly what he said he’d do. Finally, a president who does what he promised, they say. The media starts speculating on the collapse of the liberal world order.
Then, amid the hyperventilation, Trump backs down. He does so while pretending that he hasn’t. Then he blames the Republican Party for not supporting him. We’ve seen this with healthcare, with immigration reform, and now perhaps with his protectionism. Today, Sarah Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, said that there would be ‘carve-outs’ for Mexico and Canada and ‘potentially other countries as well.’ NAFTA trade war averted, then.
But, but — we sputter — this is not what Trump said last week, when he insisted categorically the tariffs would apply to all countries. We should have known. What Trump says and what the Trump administration does are different things. Yet everybody falls for Trump’s routine, every time. And now Trump is in a stronger position, having staked out his own new ground to compromise on. At least that’s what he’ll tell himself.