|President Trump at Minnesota Round Table|
1. Is the Tariff Really a Good Idea? Probably Not . . . But . . .
Almost all economists think that unfettered free trade is very good for the economy. Nevertheless, the American public has never been excited about free trade.
So, President Donald Trump's "America First" policy is nothing new. The protective tariff is one of the oldest controversies in American politics, and the tariff remains a popular policy– a winning presidential campaign theme, and not for the first time.
Now, no statistics are available to support the tariff, since tariffs are generally bad policy for the nation as a whole, but there are plenty of individual people who will benefit from the tariff, or who think they will benefit from the tariff. This gave President Trump an opening big enough to drive a iron ore truck into, and he did just that during the Roundtable.
2. President Trump Worked His Audience
This was, of course, as one might expect, a very friendly audience. Let's look at how Trump worked his audience. First, he spoke, for the most part, in the calm, yet enthusiastic, rational style that one would expect at a business Roundtable. This was not a fire-breathing, angry speech like the ones that he gives at political rallies. He sounded like a businessman solving problems, which is, of course, what many of his supporters wanted all along.
Also, he recognized local leaders who were present, including Mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich, Minnesota representatives in Congress, various local officials, and blue-collar workers. This made the meeting sound friendly and collegial. In a clever move, he recognized Kelsey Johnson, the President of the Iron Mining Association. Since President Trump had recently announced high tariffs to protect the iron and steel industry, Ms. Johnson's support was a foregone conclusion. Mr. Trump also recognized various union members. This was quite a coup: industrial unions have traditionally voted Democratic, but industrial unions are also traditionally pro-tariff. He did this in a way that was casual and friendly:
"We’re joined by wonderful union members and workers at the great American steel and iron mining companies: Adam Morse, Dean Carlson, and Mike Tichy. And also we have Craig Jussila. Where’s Craig? I love that name. That’s not bad, right? Jussila. That’s pretty good. Good. That’s about the easiest one they gave me today. (Laughter.)"
Mr. Trump then commented that ordinary citizens would benefit from his work:
"Today, we’ll hear from citizens who are thriving as a result of our efforts to put American workers first. We’re putting America first again, folks. You know, we’re respected again, as a country. Okay? (Applause.)"
Mr. Trump then commented on the booming economy and the low unemployment rate. Fair enough. Like many Republican politicians, he emphasized that strength made success possible. He rambled a bit about his usual talking points, including border security, Obamacare, and tax cuts. Again, fair enough. He complimented his audience, and moved toward a discussion:
"We’re very proud of this state and the people of the state of Minnesota. They are incredible people. And you have some tremendous stories to tell. And maybe we’re going to start, Kelsey, with you, and you’ll sort of lead us around the table, okay?"
Ms. Johnson said, "Thank you. And I can’t thank you enough for the Section 232 and the steel tariffs." She commented about her industry's increasing productivity and employment. She said that she liked the tariffs better than the previous quotas, leading Mr. Trump to respond that: "Well, I don’t like the quotas as much as the tariffs." Thus, he agreed with her, playing off of her comments. Instead of lecturing, he interacted.
He then called on Adam Morse, a truck driver. Morse thanked Trump for the "America First" policy. Trump complimented Morris on his hat, a baseball cap with a pro-Trump slogan. Morse commented:
"The tax plan is working, and I’m seeing a difference in my paycheck. So thank you for that. And you’re right about regulation. We are — if certain groups get their way about sulfates and regulations in Minnesota, we’re going to be out of a job, and the Iron Range will suffer. We’ll be out of business."
Again, remembering the truck drivers are a traditional Democratic constituency, Morse's comments were telling. Trump used that comment to create a transition to the next speaker, Commissioner Pete Stauber (who is also a congressional candidate). Stauber commented favorably on Trump's protection of the iron and steel industry. Trump then called on Mike Tichy, an iron miner. Tichy commented:
"Mr. President, it’s an honor, and it’s great to — you’re a man of your word. Through the campaign, you promised to put the American worker first, and I just want to thank you for that. All of my fellow miners."
Well, several other people spoke, All on the same general theme. Mr. Trump concluded with a gracious closing statement summarizing the discussion.
|1896 Campaign Book|
William McKinley made the protective tariff his main campaign theme, which I talk about in my book about the 1896 presidential campaign. Abraham Lincoln was pro-tariff just as fervently as he was anti-slavery. Andrew Jackson was pro-tariff. Tariffs have long seemed like the little guy's issue. Free trade sounds like an issue for the big and powerful people. Trump's use of the tariff as a political issue has plenty of appeal, and people who underestimate that appeal are making a mistake. Politicians who support the tariff might wreck the economy or start wars, but they win elections. Lots of elections.
4. Trump Was Very Persuasive
People who underestimate Mr. Trump's persuasive skill are setting themselves up to be disappointed. To no one's great surprise, Mr. Trump's speech in the big political rally later in the day was packed with factual errors, which the mainstream media carefully pointed out. And rightly so.
So, from a communication standpoint, let's look at what Mr. Trump did very well. He interacted effectively in conversation with a variety of people. He was relaxed, friendly, and confident. He introduced a bit of humor. He complimented people and was, in general, quite charming. He hit his usual campaign themes. He maintained eye contact around the room. For the most part, he spoke extemporaneously and effectively. He was nothing like the ranting lunatic depicted in the mainstream media (and which he often acts like during his political rallies). In fact, the ranting political rally later that day got much more attention from the national press.
But I suspect that many people in Minnesota will remember the Roundtable.