Analysis | Trump muses: Maybe covid-19 was punishment for his tariffs on China?

It’s useful to contextualize this story by offering some background on its venue and participants.

Former president Donald Trump, the subject of an interview that aired on Monday evening, needs no context. His interviewer may: Lou Dobbs, a fixture in conservative media for decades until his Fox Business show was dumped by the channel after he was targeted in a defamation case focused on claims he’d made about the 2020 presidential election. Dobbs was foaming about the central elements of Trumpian politics even before Trump arrived on the scene; he’s been a devoted supporter of Trump since. In 2022, a Rolling Stone report indicated that Trump might consider Dobbs for a Cabinet post, should he win reelection this year.

Since Dobbs was fired by Fox, you might be wondering where the interview was hosted. The answer is that Dobbs’s show was resurrected for “Lindell TV,” which you have only heard of if you are a deeply dedicated student of the American fringe. It is, as you might expect, a product of pillow-salesman-turned-Trump-promoting-conspiracy-theorist Mike Lindell, a sort of YouTube for the tinfoil-hat set. So Lindell, whose identity is now enveloped in his support for Trump, hired Dobbs (pretty much the same) to interview Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Far from resulting in a bland exchange of pleasantries, though, the format allowed Trump to let down his guard, to whatever extent it’s ever up. He approached it as he would a rally speech, offering expected, worn-smooth rhetoric that he’s presented many times before. (Trump is in his Vegas-residency era, mostly playing his most popular hits for the crowd.) But, feeding off Dobbs’s support, he couldn’t help taking things just a bit further, meaning that he ended up making news when he probably didn’t intend to.

Sign up for How To Read This Chart, a weekly data newsletter from Philip Bump

One example went viral soon after the interview began.

“We have an economy that’s so fragile, and the only reason it’s running now is it’s running off the fumes of what we did. What the Trump admin — it’s just running off the fumes,” Trump said. “And when there’s a crash, I hope it’s going to be during this next 12 months. Because I don’t want to be Herbert Hoover.”

(History will probably suggest that he’s more like Woodrow Wilson, but that’s another story.)

Obviously, blithely suggesting that a crash is coming and he hopes it happens under his likely opponent in November is not the sort of America-boosterism we tend to expect from presidential candidates. But it’s not new for Trump, certainly, whose politics are based on presenting as bleak a picture of a non-Trump-led America as he can. In 2016 and 2020, he said similar things.

“You’ll end up winning okay, we’re going to blame them.” Stuff like that. (Two years later, he would claim that he prevented the crash that he suggested would come.)

Trump also said something else that received less attention.

“I took in hundreds of billions of dollars from China,” he told Dobbs, referring to the tariffs he imposed on Chinese imports. “No president ever took in ten cents. It was a one way deal.”

“And I changed things around a lot,” he continued. “A lot of people think that’s why we had the China virus, frankly, because they never had a problem like they did with me. But I don’t think so. I think it was gross incompetence at the Wuhan lab.”

“There are those people that said they would have done anything to get rid of me,” he said a bit later.

It’s been a while, so we should first point out that the brunt of the negative effects of the tariffs — fees imposed on products imported from China — was borne by American consumers. A study published in May 2019 found that 95 percent of the costs of the tariffs were paid by Americans. Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimated that American households were paying an additional $800 a year thanks to the fees.

We should also note that Trump signed a deal with Chinese leaders in early 2020 committing China to buying an additional $200 billion in exports from America. (The total increase by the end of the deal? Zero.) When the coronavirus emerged soon afterward, Trump repeatedly downplayed it — in part to defend the country with whom he’d just made that deal.

Live updates from the campaign trail as the first contest of 2024 nears

Now, though, everything has changed. The pandemic was a horrifying disaster, and Trump is eager to have people think that none of it was his fault. He was a quick adopter of the idea that the virus was demonstrably a function of activity in a lab in Wuhan, China — in part because renewed scrutiny of the lab allows him to claim that he was “proven right,” one of his favorite rhetorical tactics while in political exile. (It’s been a fascinating social experiment, seeing how careful picking of cherries can seemingly prove anyone to have been a Nostradamus in their own time.)

He told Dobbs that he doesn’t think covid was a punishment for tariffs. But this is how his library of defenses is built: He tests the waters and sees the response. This line takes him from “China is doing its best” to “it was China’s fault not mine” to “China, unlike me, was incompetent” to “China was mad because I was so anti-China” — a transition that fits his needs coming into 2024. At another point, he tried to turn President Biden into the pro-China guy, claiming, falsely, that Biden “got millions of dollars from China.” He also pointed to China’s role in fentanyl production — so being seen as the guy who China is desperate to keep out of power is useful as he talks to Republican primary voters.

It’s all nonsense, as you might expect from a conversation between Trump and a guy fired by Fox News for going to far, hosted on a fake news channel created by a pillow salesman. But Trump has a good shot of being president by this month next year, so it’s worth making very clear that what he’s saying is nonsense and why he’s saying it.

This article was originally published by a . Read the Original article here. .