”The workers love me.”
It’s a common refrain in a Donald Trump stump speech. And recent history backs him up: The Republican front-runner has now racked up decisive victories in blue-collar strongholds Illinois and Michigan. One recent survey found that 55 percent of his supporters are white working class, indicating that the Donald is indeed tapping into deep-seated frustration among working Americans.
But would a President Trump actually make things better for the rank and file?
His record suggests otherwise.
At the Republican primary debate in Florida, Mr. Trump again threatened to impose a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods “if [the Chinese] don’t behave.” Yet the overwhelming majority of economists agree that taxing foreign goods would do little more than raise the price of those goods in the United States — effectively shifting the cost of the import tax onto the consumer at the checkout line. This applies to all kinds of everyday goods American shoppers depend on — from shoes and shirts to diapers and vacuum cleaners.
Some economists argue that Trumpian trade policies could even trigger a global recession. It goes without saying that another recession wouldn’t help the American worker. Keep in mind that the Smoot-Hawley tariff, which was passed during the Great Depression in 1930 and which drastically raised the price of imported goods, is widely credited with worsening and prolonging the depression. U.S. imports and exports subsequently contracted by about two-thirds and unemployment doubled from 8 percent in 1930 to 16 percent in 1931.
Facts be darned, the real estate mogul has stuck to his claim that foreigners are “killing us on trade.” This is hypocritical. Many of Mr. Trump’s clothing items — from ties to dress shirts and suit coats — are made in China. And most of those that aren’t come from Bangladesh, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. Mexico — another frequent target of Mr. Trump’s ire — is also known for manufacturing the Donald Trump Signature Collection.
Mr. Trump recently admitted “It’s very hard to have apparel made in this country.” Really? Mr. Trump ties go for about $60 on Amazon. Given that other brands sell ties for $200 or more, the Trump brand could tack on a few extra dollars to manufacture them in the United States if he were willing to put his money where his mouth is. One recent analysis found that none of Ivanka Trump’s clothing line is made exclusively in the United States — 354 items are listed as made in China.
Mr. Trump sees global trade as a zero-sum game: One more Chinese or Mexican job means one less American job. This is simplistic. The savings Americans enjoy on foreign-made goods stimulate job creation and economic activity at home.
And Mr. Trump’s cozy relationship with Big Labor — which he has described as “great,” “wonderful,” and “refreshing” — may not help. He has been chummy with union bosses for years : “I’ve made many billions of dollars dealing with unions,” he said back in 2011.
But his good relations with union bigwigs does nothing to help American workers. Nor does Mr. Trump’s failure to support or even mention proemployee legislation such as the Employee Rights Act (ERA), which will protect employees by updating basic American labor law for the first time since the 1940s. About 80 percent of Americans — including union and non-union households — support the ERA’s eight key provisions, which include guaranteed secret ballot union elections and an employee privacy guarantee. Ted Cruz is a co-sponsor, as are more than 120 senators and representatives.
Predictably, the democratic reforms in the ERA are opposed by “establishment” union officials and their puppet crony candidates. More remarkably, Mr. Trump has yet to criticize the crony union scams that protect six-figure salaries for union officials at the expense of those who are forced to pay dues or lose their jobs.
If Mr. Trump really wants the workers to love him he would drop his support for counterproductive tariffs and support the ERA. It can’t be too big a risk to aggressively support a law that polls 80 percent favorable among those who love you.
It’s become obvious that Mr. Trump’s disregard for political correctness and outrageous statements make him a dream candidate for many frustrated Americans. But the substance of his positioning and history should give them nightmares.
• Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Company, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.