It's lose-lose, and it is 'nuts'

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The unintended consequences of protectionism pose a global threat.

U.S. SEN. BEN SASSE, THE Nebraska Republican, had this to say about President Trump's declaration of trade war with China: "(Maybe Trump is) just blowing off steam again, but, if he's even half-serious, this is nuts. ... (Trump) has no actual plan to win. ... He's threatening to light American agriculture on fire. ... Let's absolutely take on Chinese bad behavior, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us. This is the dumbest possible way to do this."

While most Republican leaders - including the Stateline Area's own Speaker of the House Paul Ryan - appear to have their socks stuffed in their mouths, the Nebraska senator is speaking truth to the chaos-causer in the White House.

Imposing tariffs willy-nilly is antithetical to conservative Republican philosophy, from early thinkers like Buckley and Friedman to Reagan and his ideological successors. If there's an economist or foreign-policy professional on Trump's side he'll be the loneliest guy in the room. Most business and industry leaders are aghast, correctly calling it a tax on U.S. consumers. The damage is apparent already in the U.S. economy - look at the commodities market as China targets U.S. soybeans, along with heightened volatility on Wall Street. The economy had been Republicans' strong point going into 2018's mid-terms, but it seems the White House has a visceral distaste for relishing an advantage.

MOREOVER, THE STRONG BASE driving Republican gains these past several years has been the nation's Heartland and long-ignored rural Americans. So, who gets hit worst in a trade war with China? Right - the nation's Heartland and rural Americans, particularly farmers.

Which is why Sasse summed it up perfectly: "This is nuts."

Until Trump, most Republicans called this kind of thing "protectionism" and staunchly opposed it. In fact, protectionist tendencies usually rose from the left side of the aisle.

The point is this: Clearly, China is unwilling to play Trump's hapless victim. When he first ordered steel and aluminum tariffs - with a tweet, for heaven's sake - China responded with its own tough talk. When Trump upped the ante to $50 billion China went after soybeans, which would drive a stake through the hearts of American farmers. So a petulant Trump stamped the floor and shrieked, "$100 billion!" Still, China is not buckling.

Maybe this is why. By most measures the largest economy in the world belongs to China, not the United States anymore. And the Chinese seem to be pulling away, with the ability to match Trump blow for blow for as long as he wants. Question: Do Americans really want to absorb the punishment?

A GOOD CASE can be made for pressing China and other countries to negotiate fairer trade deals with the United States. No way are we arguing America should let itself be pushed around in the global economy.

But protectionism is a game every country can play, and the unintended consequences can create great economic blowback on domestic economic interests. Approaching that minefield with a lash-out-by-tweet mentality is, as Senator Sasse said, "nuts."

Think about this. If Barack Obama had done this, congressional Republicans would have been marching up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House with pitchforks and torches. But with Trump, as on other occasions, the leaders cower silently in their offices.

This is not conservatism. This is not free trade, free enterprise Republicanism. There will be no we-win, you-lose outcome. This is a lose-lose rumble with alarming international implications for prosperity.

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