President Donald Trump has confirmed that he publicly said he couldn't publicly say that he was killing a trade deal with Canada, because it would kill the trade deal with Canada, which is now dead.
Let's review. Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced a rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which is a 24-year-old agreement between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The only problem was that the announced deal was between only the U.S. and Mexico. For various political reasons on both sides of the Rio Grande, it was critical that the trade deal be officially presented to Congress by end of the week, so getting Canada on-board became an immediate priority.
Fast-forward to Thursday, when Trump told reporters for Bloomberg that he was deliberately undermining the negotiations with Canada by refusing to make any concessions.
"It's going to be so insulting they're not going to be able to make a deal," said Trump, who is supposedly renowned for his ability to, well, make deals.
Though he made those comments in an off-the-record meeting, undisclosed sources passed the president's words along to the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale, who reported them Friday morning.
Canadian trade officials, understandably, were not thrilled. Trade talks concluded Friday with no agreement between the U.S. and Canada.
Having sunk the negotiations that he apparently intended to sink anyway, Trump confirmed that he had intended to sink them all along in a Friday afternoon tweet.
Wow, I made OFF THE RECORD COMMENTS to Bloomberg concerning Canada, and this powerful understanding was BLATANTLY VIOLATED. Oh well, just more dishonest reporting. I am used to it. At least Canada knows where I stand!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2018
For what it's worth, Bloomberg tells Axios that their reporters abided by the terms of the off-the-record agreement with the president. It remains unclear how Trump's comments got passed along to Dale, but this White House is notoriously leaky and it's pretty unlikely that Trump and the Bloomberg reporters were the only ones in the room when Trump said what he said about Canada.
I'm not sure which part is more alarming, to be honest. Is it that Trump knew it was important to keep his negotiating strategy a secret, and then immediately blabbed about it to a reporter? Is it that Trump was secretly (or not so secretly) plotting to kill the trade deal with Canada in the first place? Or is it that Trump was clearly negotiating in bad faith all week with a major trading partner, ally, and neighbor—you know, the kind of behavior that not only sank this trade deal but makes every other future negotiation and communication between Ottawa and Washington more fraught?
That Trump seems to relish engaging in this sort of behavior is not merely unpresidential. It's childish, and it is dangerous. It's no wonder that he's become so deeply unpopular in other countries that politicians now have a domestic political incentive to avoid engaging with America, as new polling from Pew highlights.
All of this should stand against the backdrop of Trump apparently believing himself capable of restructuring the unfathomable complexities of global trade. Never has he seemed less capable of such a task.