Jennifer Rubin: How to respond to a manic president driving the economy into the ditch

Jennifer Rubin commentary

President Donald Trump's unhinged escalation of the trade war on Friday, coupled with his "order" for U.S. companies to stop doing business in China, was sure not going to soothe fears of a recession nor give investors confidence.

The Washington Post reports, "European Council President Donald Tusk on Saturday said escalating trade tensions between President Trump and other world leaders risk throwing the world into recession, bemoaning 'senseless disputes' that had ripped countries apart." Warning that time was running out to "restore our political community," he continued: "For me it's absolutely clear that if someone, for example . . . the United States and President Trump, uses tariffs and taxation as a political instrument, tool for some different political reasons, it means that this confrontation can be really risky for the whole world, including the EU," Tusk said. "This is why we need the G-7. . . . If the U.S. imposes tariffs on France, the EU will [respond] in kind."

He also derided Trump for inviting the Russians back into the Group of Seven and excuse-mongering for their invasion of the Crimea. ("Under no condition can we agree with this logic.")

Perhaps Trump will decide to cancel the rest of his trip, as he did when Denmark spoke up against his "absurd" idea of buying Greenland. The Europeans should be so lucky.

What struck me was that no congressional leader or presidential candidate to date has made exactly these points. None has taken the time to give a major speech identifying Trump as the cause of chaos, defending the independence of the Federal Reserve chair (whom Trump had the gall to call an "enemy") and providing a road map for going forward. That's a shame, because now would be a good time for one or more of them to show how a calm, rational person would react to an impending economic crisis.


I go back to the 2008 election when, in the middle of the presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., stopped his campaign, announced that he wanted to postpone the first presidential debate and rushed back to Washington to meet with President George W. Bush and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, a meeting with no apparent purpose. In that moment, the country saw one calm, composed and knowledgeable nominee and one frenetic, aimless nominee.

Now, the frenetic, aimless and ignorant one is in the White House. Therefore, this is the time to accentuate the stark contrast with one or more contenders for the Democratic nomination. Candidates should consider several steps.

First, they should give a serious speech warning of the dangers of an escalating trade war and inveighing against the preposterous (OK, bonkers) order for U.S. companies to cease doing business with China. The Democrats would do well to point out that the real socialist seems to be the guy in the White House who imagines we have a command-and-control economy. The candidates should also explain that what he proposed, if ever enacted, would have devastating consequences for American consumers, workers and businesses.

Second, they should reaffirm the independence of the Fed and pledge to keep politics out of the central bank. They might want to point out that Trump was the one who replaced respected Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen with Jerome H. Powell.

Third, the senators in the Democratic presidential race should demand hearings when Congress reconvenes with Powell, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and outside experts (perhaps past Fed chairs) to analyze what is going on and explain where this is all headed. What's the end game? How do we "win"?

Finally, Democrats should explain what they would have and will do about China and the world economic trading system: Pledge to end silly spats with close allies, make whatever tweaks are needed to ratify NAFTA 2.0, revisit the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which would have made China the odd man out) and convene our closest allies, including the European Union, Mexico and Canada, to agree on a joint strategy for addressing the legitimate issue Trump has long since forgotten, the theft of intellectual property.

Americans, if they didn't already, see the dangers of having a wild man in the Oval Office during a time of growing anxiety and possible economic crisis. Now they have to see the alternative(s). Who's game?

Jennifer Rubin can be reached at She writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.

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