Did Trump's Mexico tariff threats work?
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President Trump has been criticized, often rightly, for his reliance on import tariffs as a tool to bring foreign governments to heel, said National Review in an editorial. But that tactic just scored him, and the nation, a big "win at the border." Two weeks ago, Trump threatened to slap a 5 percent tariff on all imports from Mexico, eventually rising to 25 percent, unless the Mexican government took effective action to stem the tide of Central American migrants crossing Mexico on their way to the U.S. The usual experts mocked Trump for thinking this threat would work, and even nervous Republican leaders — fearing the economic damage of more tariffs — pleaded for a change of course. But last week, Mexico blinked. It has promised that 6,000 troops from the Mexican National Guard will now patrol their own southern border with Guatemala. Mexico also agreed to expand the "Migration Protection Protocols" that require some asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their applications for entry to the U.S. are processed. This is "a clear Trump triumph," said Hugh Hewitt at The Washington Post. Nonetheless, the Trump haters in "the Manhattan-Beltway echo chamber" are frantically trying to insist that Mexico actually gave Trump nothing.
It was actually Trump who blinked, said Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. Congressional Republicans were in revolt over the threatened tariffs, and "rotten" jobs numbers for May suggested the economy could be softening. So Trump, who always "operates as if the underlying reality is meaningless," simply pretended Mexico had caved in to his demands. In reality, several news organizations reported, Mexico had agreed months ago to keep more of the migrants on its side of the border and to use its newly formed National Guard to deter additional migration. Upset by the "less-than-spectacular reaction to his nondeal," Trump this week insisted there were additional, "secret" Mexican concessions and waved a single sheet of folded paper as proof. In reality, he failed to get Mexico to agree to his biggest demand, said Ted Hesson and Doug Palmer at Politico. Trump wanted Mexico to declare itself a "safe third country" — which would require all migrants passing through Mexico to seek asylum there first, instead of in the U.S. But Mexico refused.
Notice a pattern? said Eliana Johnson and Nancy Cook, also at Politico. Time and again, Trump uses the same script: "Spark a crisis by threatening harsh consequences," such as "fire and fury" against North Korea, unless "hazy, unspecified demands" are met. When the deadline approaches, said Peter Baker at The New York Times, Trump announces "a deal — real or imagined" and declares victory. This script works as political theater, but in policy terms, it's mostly "smoke and mirrors."
We'll know soon enough if the number of asylum seekers drops, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. It remains to be seen whether the Mexican National Guard will be able to shut down the exodus of desperate Central Americans, especially since human traffickers know how to both evade and bribe the federales. But there are reports that if this doesn't work over the next 45 days, Mexico in fact will give Trump what he wants, and offer asylum to all migrants arriving on its territory. Unfortunately, this success might further encourage Trump to use tariffs "as an all-purpose weapon" in his disputes with China, Europe, and every other nation. "Businesses depend on consistent policy to make decisions," and in the Trump era, that's become impossible. "The U.S. economy is paying for it."