Presidential Debate

Trump Blames Biden for Never Removing the Tariffs Trump Imposed

And you have to admit, he's got a point.


President Joe Biden had more than three years to roll back former President Donald Trump's tariffs that are driving up prices for consumers and businesses.

He did not, even though Biden had made clear during the last campaign that he knew Americans were bearing the cost of those trade policies. Instead, Biden chose to pander to unionized workers in the Rust Belt and peddle an economically nonsensical message that in many ways echoed the one Trump had implemented. Biden has even hiked some of the tariffs Trump initially implemented on imports from China.

During Thursday night's debate in Atlanta, those chickens came home to roost—as Biden was attacked by Trump both for keeping those tariffs in place and for the consequences of those policies. He did not do a good job of defending himself.

"Do you notice he never took out my tariffs because we bring in so much money with the tariffs that I imposed on China," Trump said. "He never took them away can't because it's too much money. It's tremendous."

Moments later, Trump pivoted to attack Biden for the fact that those same tariffs seemingly haven't accomplished anything with regard to China.

"China's going to own us if you keep allowing them to do what they're doing to us as a country. They are killing us as a country, Joe, and you can't let that happen. You're destroying our country."

Biden has followed through on exactly what Trump did, but that's allowing China to kill us?

Yeah, it doesn't make much sense—but in fairness, neither does the fact that both Trump and Biden have embraced tariffs, which are nothing more than taxes on Americans, as some sort of imagined political solution to whatever thing China is doing right now that we dislike.

The topic of tariffs came up just after a clash over tax policy—kudos to the moderators, CNN's Dana Bash and Jake Tapper, for making that choice—and it could have been a great opportunity for Biden to draw a distinction between himself and the former president. Biden tried to criticize Trump's plan for a 10 percent tariff on all imports, calling it "a tax on everything coming into the country."

True! But the fact that Biden has left most of Trump's other tariffs in place (or hiked them) makes that a tough argument to sell. After all, if tariffs are taxes on all Americans and if Biden has promised not to raise taxes on anyone who isn't wealthy, then something doesn't add up.

And, indeed, Trump pounced on the opportunity.

The really frustrating thing about this is that Trump is fundamentally wrong about how tariffs work. He has been for a long time. Taxes on Americans are not going to change China's behavior. That's not theoretical. We have six years of real evidence. Tariffs are not saving American manufacturing. The trade deficit didn't fall like Trump promised it would. China didn't buy the larger share of American imports that were part of Trump's supposed "phase one" deal. In the middle of Thursday's debate, Trump even managed to confuse the trade deficit with the federal budget deficit (a mistake he's been making for years).

If only Biden were in a position to highlight Trump's clearly misguided views on trade and tariffs. But that would have required different choices over the past three-plus years (and a stronger debate performance from the president, who struggled at times on Thursday to be articulate).

Biden chose this outcome, and now we're left with a choice between a candidate who doesn't understand the fundamentals of trade policy and one who has foolishly gone along with that fantasy for political gain.