Trump doubles down on tariffs: ‘Trade wars are good, and easy to win’

President TrumpDonald John TrumpPoll: Both parties need to do more on drug prices Senate approves .3 trillion spending bill, sending to Trump White House: Trump will delay steel tariffs for EU, six countries MORE on Friday defended his decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum, even as he acknowledged the move could trigger a global trade war.

In a series of early morning tweets, the president continued to defy members of his own party — and some of his top advisers — by insisting that the tariffs would benefit the U.S. economy. 

“When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win,” Trump tweeted.

Trump also suggested the tariffs were merely the war’s opening salvo, tweeting that he wants “RECIPROCAL TAXES” on goods from countries that have high taxes on U.S. exports.


The president doubled down on one of his central themes during the 2016 campaign; that foreign countries are taking advantage of the U.S. on trade and need to be stopped.

“Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!” he tweeted at 5:50 a.m.

Trump also claimed the U.S. has a trade deficit of $800 billion, an inflated figure that does not take into account trade in services. The trade deficit in 2017, taking into account goods and services, was $566 billion, according to the Commerce Department.

Many economists and Republican lawmakers disagree with the president, arguing that free trade helps drive down consumer prices while fueling the world’s largest economy with a needed influx of goods and services.

But Trump has been itching to take action to stem what he sees as unfair trade practices by foreign countries.

Trump surprised many in Washington on Thursday when he announced a tariff of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum under a law that allows the president to crack down on imports if they are deemed to threaten national security.

The president stressed how the tariffs would help strengthen the U.S. steel and aluminum industries in comparison to their foreign competitors, telling industry executives that “they used to be a lot bigger, but they're going to be a lot bigger again.”

While the president has long expressed a desire to impose tariffs, members of his senior staff were left out of the loop on his final decision and it was unclear the president would make the announcement until the moment it happened.

For more than a year, a cadre of Trump’s senior advisers — including National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn — have persuaded him not to follow through on his promise to take the aggressive trade measures he promised during the campaign.

Their allies were dismayed with Trump’s decision to break with them, arguing the tariffs will have bad, unintended consequences for American consumers.

“Trade wars are never won. Trade wars are lost by both sides,” Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseGOP senator tears into Trump for congratulating Putin The Hill's 12:30 Report Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new sanctions against Russia | Key Republicans back VA chief amid controversy | Trump gives boost to military 'space force' MORE (R-Neb.) said Friday, pushing back on Trump’s assertion that a trade war would be “easy to win.”

“Kooky 18th century protectionism will jack up prices on American families — and will prompt retaliation from other countries,” he continued in a statement. “Make no mistake: If the president goes through with this, it will kill American jobs — that’s what every trade war ultimately does. So much losing.”

Many of the details of the tariffs remain unclear, including whether certain U.S. allies will be exempted.

“That’s what the president seemed to announce yesterday,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossTrump will delay steel tariffs for EU, others Once on chopping block, Trump's budget puts development finance in overdrive Countries scramble to win exemptions from steel tariffs MORE, a leading protectionist voice in the Trump administration, said Friday on CNBC when asked if the tariffs would apply to all countries.

He added that the tariffs would have to be “fairly broad” to have the desired effect.

Administration officials have also not provided details about what a potential reciprocal tax might entail.

Trump’s defense of the tariffs show he is feeling emboldened about his hawkish stance on trade, despite warnings from his own advisers and ominous signs on Wall Street.

They also sparked renewed fears about whether the president will tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada or scrap a free-trade pact with South Korea, both of which the administration is renegotiating.

Stock markets took a nosedive early Friday after Trump doubled down on the tariffs and his protectionist rhetoric.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down roughly 300 points more than an hour after markets opened. The S&P 500 also dropped more than half a percentage point.

Executives from the automobile, construction and beverage industries expressed concern that tariffs would raise the prices of their products, negating consumers’ gains from the humming economy and tax cuts.

The European Union, Canada and other top U.S. trading partners threatened to retaliate if their exports to the U.S. are affected.  

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland vowed to take "responsive measures" if the Trump administration imposes stiff tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum products.

Hans Jürgen Kerkhoff, president of the German Steel Federation, said Friday that the measures “clearly violate the rules of the World Trade Organization.”

“If the E.U. does not react, our steel industry will pay the bill for U.S. protectionism,” he said.

The move was cheered by labor unions, including the AFL-CIO, which said Thursday that the tariffs are “critical to leveling the playing field and ensuring that U.S. steel producers and their employees have a fair shot in the global economy.”

Trump and his protectionist allies have long argued that foreign countries, especially China, are flooding the U.S. market with cheap steel that has forced domestic producers to shutter plants and cut jobs.

Ross also downplayed the gloomy predictions. During his appearance on CNBC, he held up a can of Campbell’s soup and Coca-Cola to argue their prices would only rise marginally as a result of the tariffs.  

“All this hysteria has a lot to do about nothing,” he said. 

Trump’s decision, however, has added to the internal turmoil that has wracked the White House.

It was a rebuke to Cohn, who has repeatedly argued to the president that the measures could hurt the U.S. economy and spark a trade war. Trump's decision to forge ahead on tariffs could force Cohn to resign, according to multiple reports. 

"Gary was here yesterday afternoon, I talked to him in my office several times, so I don't have any reason to think otherwise,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders Sanders told reporters when asked if Cohn will stay at the White House.

Brooke Seipel contributed

Updated at 11:40 a.m.