Listening to Donald Trump explain how he’ll solve major global problems is like watching a man prepare to fix a malfunctioning computer with a pipe wrench. While you may not know exactly how it’s going to play out, you do know there is zero chance that the problem will be fixed. And, there is something close to a 100 percent probability that the guy swaggering toward the server with a couple of pounds of iron in his hand is about to make things worse.
In his first sit-down interview since becoming the official Republican presidential nominee, Trump appeared on Meet the Press Sunday in a pre-recorded session with host Chuck Todd. He suggested that the US might need to pull out of the World Trade Organization and ought to selectively tax companies that move manufacturing plants out of the US. He reiterated his suggestion that the US might not honor NATO treaty obligations, and raised the possibility that his administration would massively restrict the ability of citizens of some of our closest allies -- like France and Germany -- to enter the country.
Todd asked Trump to elaborate on his promise to punish US companies that move factories to countries like Mexico. Trump used one of his favorite examples: Carrier, the air-conditioner manufacturer that moved a plant from Indiana to Mexico.
“There will be a tax to be paid. If they're going to fire all their people, move their plant to Mexico, build air conditioners, and think they're going to sell those air conditioners to the United States, there's going to be a tax.”
“What kind of tax are you thinking?” Todd asked.
“It could be 25 percent. It could be 35 percent. It could be 15 percent. I haven't determined. And it could be different for different companies. We have been working on trying to stop this...because we don't know what we're doing.”
Todd did not raise the objection that selective application of taxes to products sold by different businesses opens the door wide to abusive enforcement. However, he did point out that the targeting of individual companies wouldn’t make it through the World Trade Organization. But Trump waved him off. “It doesn't matter. Then we're going to renegotiate or we're going to pull out. These trade deals are a disaster, Chuck. World Trade Organization is a disaster.”
The WTO, while far from perfect, has probably done as much or more to facilitate global free trade as any other international organization.
New York Times senior economics correspondent Neil Irwin confessed on Twitter that Trump’s proposal left him at a loss.
Part of my job is to write analysis of what politicians say about economic policy but this just defies any analysis. https://t.co/vQ5SECkHbS— Neil Irwin (@Neil_Irwin) July 24, 2016
Trump went on to defend a protectionist trade policy by claiming that the European Union was formed to create a trading conglomerate that would be able to “beat” the US in global trade.
Which...just isn’t true.
The creation of a free-trade zone within Europe was not an effort to hurt the United States; it was a decades-long effort to break down unnecessary barriers between natural trading partners.
When Todd questioned him about recent changes to his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the country, Trump tacked in a new and surprising direction. He suggested that instead of targeting people specifically by religion, he would consider making it much more difficult for citizens from countries that have suffered homegrown terrorist attacks, including Germany and France, to enter the US.
Blackballing citizens of countries the US relies on for cooperation in fighting terrorism might not be the best way to inspire cooperation in the future. But Trump, as usual, is nothing if not confident.
“It's their own fault, because they've allowed people over years to come into their territory,” he said,
“You could get to the point where you're not allowing a lot of people to come into this country from a lot of places,” Todd pointed out.
“Maybe we get to that point…” Trump said.
The Republican nominee also reasserted that he would not necessarily honor NATO treaty obligations unless he was satisfied that an ally in need of assistance had satisfied him that its financial commitment to the alliance -- spending 2 percent of GDP on defense -- had been fulfilled.
“So all I'm saying is they have to pay,” he said. “Now, a country gets invaded, they haven't paid, everyone says, "Oh, but we have a treaty." Well, they have a treaty too.
A little later Sunday morning, President Obama appeared on Face the Nation and declared that Trump’s comments about allies like NATO revealed a “lack of preparedness” for the office of president. It was hard, on Sunday at least, to argue that he was wrong.