TOLEDO, Ohio – President Trump’s supporters nodded approval last week when Trump praised the “big and beautiful monster” of a trade agreement he will sign with China on Wednesday.
The enthusiastic group, meeting at the Huntington Center in Toledo, nodded again when Trump insisted that US farmers, who had been harmed by the trade war with China, were winners and, as he stated, incorrectly, that US importers did not They were paying the fees. .
“And now the deal is done,” Trump said.
Crowded sand roared triumphantly.
On Wednesday, Trump will sign an initial trade agreement with Beijing that will help calm tensions between the two largest economies in the world, but leaves many of the most important problems unresolved. The key details of the agreement remain unclear, the text remains secret and the most complicated issues, such as China’s financial support for companies competing with US companies, have been delayed until after the 2020 elections.
But for Trump’s most loyal supporters, the president faced China and won a great victory.
“Instead of giving all the money to China, now we’re going to get it back,” said Kim Lewis, 65, a corn and soybean farmer from Jamestown, Indiana, who drove four hours to see Mr. Trump’s speech. . “He had the guts to face these other countries.”
The optimism surrounding the outcome of the negotiations reflects the deep confidence that Trump’s supporters have in a president who promised to prevent China from “cheating” the United States and declaring victory by rewriting the terms of trade.
Trump’s public sale of the agreement, along with his optimistic views on the US economy, have transcended any disadvantage of his economic policies. Support for Mr. Trump and his trade agreement remain strong in places like Ohio, where economic growth and employment in the manufacturing industry Shows signs of deceleration.
National employment data published on Friday showed that 12,000 factory jobs were eliminated in December. Manufacturing employment has plummeted in the industrial Midwest in the past year in the midst of the prolonged trade war. Employment in the state’s goods-producing industries decreased by 10,100 between November 2018 and November 2019, according to the Ohio Department of Employment and Family Services.
For those dedicated enough to Mr. Trump to face the cold weather and long lines to attend a mid-week campaign rally, any responsibility for economic discomfort was directed elsewhere.
“Tariffs are not the answer, but Trump’s back was placed against the wall,” said Timothy Pedro, the Republican mayor of Waterville, Ohio, who said companies in his city had been holding back investments as a result of uncertainty. commercial. “I had to do something”.
At the Toledo demonstration, Trump stayed away from the details of the trade agreement, focusing on the promise that it will be implemented with the threat of more tariffs and the commitment he received from China to increase his purchases of US agricultural products to $ 50. one billion a year, almost double what he bought at the peak of 2012.
Critics of the agreement have said that it is not realistic for China to increase its agricultural purchases so quickly. And they argue that Trump chose political expediency by complying with an interim agreement that would calm the markets in the midst of his re-election campaign, but would do little to resolve the administration’s biggest concerns about China’s unfair economic practices.
For Mr. Trump’s most fervent supporters, however, the unsystematic approach was another sign of the president’s ability to reach an agreement.
“You can’t get everything at the same time,” said Jeff Colwell, 54, a car parts manufacturer who lives near Columbus. “Anything we can do to match trade with China is a good thing.”
By accepting the agreement last month, Trump reduced the tariffs he had imposed on Chinese goods by 360 billion dollars and chose not to tax other imports for 160 billion dollars. China agreed to apply stronger protections for US intellectual property, open its markets to US financial institutions and commit to greater transparency around the administration of its currency.
The agreement gives Mr. Trump a political victory to praise, but also deprives him of a useful foil against which he attacks. Hitting China is a tradition widely used by Republicans and Democrats in the election years. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama criticized their predecessors for pampering China despite their human rights abuses and unfair commercial practices during their campaigns in 1992 and 2008. As a Republican candidate in 2012, Mitt Romney attacked Obama for allowing American intellectual property theft to flourish under his supervision.
Trump has made being tough on China one of his hallmarks and has spent much of his first term attacking him as an enemy and threatening to tax all his imports. But the polls that showed their rates were The erosion of his base and the desire to obtain a political victory before the elections prompted him to reach a provisional agreement.
Michael Pillsbury, a Chinese scholar at the Hudson Institute who advises Trump, said Trump’s campaign advisers have realized that the president’s supporters are less concerned about China’s human rights abuses record or fear that Be an existential threat and be more interested in having greater access to your market. He said Trump seems to be changing his tone about China away from the caustic rhetoric used by Stephen K. Bannon, his former chief strategist, in favor of an argument that shows how the president managed to “open” China.
“The core concern about China is not the demonization of China; the concern is scammed jobs and lost business opportunities, the money part, “said Mr. Pillsbury.
Democrats have struggled heavily to decide on a blunt criticism of Trump’s China strategy, accusing him of complying with a weak agreement and warning that China can finally ignore the deal.
Still, the president’s supporters seem to be ready to blame China, rather than Trump, if the agreement is not fulfilled.
Randy Rothenbuhler, owner of a corn and soybean farm 45 minutes south of Toledo, said his soybeans had accumulated in containers during the past year due to Chinese reprisals. He hopes that the new agreement will mean the reopening of the Chinese market, but he will remain skeptical until he sees it.
“That is the trillion dollar question. Will China fulfill its promise?” Said Rothenbuhler, 42. “We’ll have to wait and see”.
Although Trump may have to stop lashing out at China in the wake of the deal, he seems likely to argue that only he could have reached an agreement and that nobody else can keep his word in China.
“They are going to do what he wants them to do,” said Michelle Sellati, a forklift driver from Lima, Ohio. “If China only works with Trump, they will also benefit.”