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Donald Trump doesn’t care about trade wars, and it’s probably keeping economists up at night

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Donald Trump has a plan to make America smart again: raise tariffs, make better deals, and, for the love of God, stop China from "killing us" on trade — and "who the hell cares" about the consequences?

The United States is "viewed as the stupid country," Trump said at a New Jersey fundraising event on Thursday for Gov. Chis Christie to help him pay off his presidential campaign debt.

American companies are outsourcing to Mexico, and China is devaluing its currency while "building fortresses on the South China Sea," Trump said at the rally, proposing to slap a 35 percent tariff on imported products from American companies that have outsourced their jobs and tax China's exports. And if all of that starts a trade war, "who the hell cares?"

"These dummies say, 'Oh, that's a trade war. Trade war? We're losing $500 billion in trade with China. Who the hell cares if there's a trade war? Think of it: $500 billion and they're telling me about a trade war," Trump said, dismissing critics of his positions on trade policy.

He continued, "A lot of you don't know the world of economics and you shouldn't even bother. Just leave it to me, I have so much fun with it. Just go and enjoy your life."

So who the hell cares about trade wars?

Reforming trade policy has become a mainstay of Trump's foreign policy platform. Mexico and China are "destroying" America in trade, he's said repeatedly on the campaign trail. But his proposals have struck ire with some trade policy experts, predominantly because of the dangers of trade wars, which Trump so quickly brushed off Thursday.

In March, Washington Post economic policy reporter Jim Tankersley asked trade experts how they think these reforms would pan out. He found that while it would in fact "sock it to China and Mexico," plunging both their economies into recession, but the models show it would have adverse affects on the United States as well:

Unfortunately, the United States would fall into recession, too. Up to 4 million American workers would lose their jobs. Another 3 million jobs would not be created that otherwise would have been, had the country not fallen into a trade-induced downturn.


What results, in the model, is a downward spiral of reduced economic activity. Prices rise on imported goods from China and Mexico, which has the effect of reducing spending power for American consumers. If China and Mexico retaliate, U.S. exports fall, forcing layoffs at American companies that sell to those foreign customers. The ensuing growth slowdowns spread to other trading partners, particularly in Europe, and cause stock markets to plunge, which in turn slows growth even more.

Trump is running as a jobs guy. On the stump he touts his role as an employer; he says his determination to bring more jobs to the United States is why Hispanics and African Americans love him so much (polling doesn't quite back this up); and his US-China trade reform plan, as outlined on his website, aims to "reclaim millions of American jobs."

In which case it seems — assuming the trade policy experts know what they are talking about it — Trump should probably care about the possibility of a trade war.

Trump is reactionary, and that doesn't always make sense

Trump is a self-ascribed "counterpuncher" — whether he is lambasting Megyn Kelly or sticking up to China for its devalued currency. His proposed policy on trade is reactionary, as is his statement on trade wars.

On Thursday Hillary Clinton, who will likely be running against Trump in the general election, took a swing at Trump's most bombastic statements.

"The kind of positions he is stating and the consequences of those positions and even the consequences of his statements are potentially dangerous," Clinton said in an exclusive interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo. "This is a pattern that has gone on for months."

But Trump's tough-on-trade mentality means he cares about one thing: America needs to live up to its potential as a strong bully that doesn't back down.

"We are like the big sloppy bully that gets punched in the face and walks out. Ever see a bully get knocked out? It's a terrible thing," Trump said.

"Unless you are doing the punching, then it's okay."

Analyzing Donald Trump's Tweets with statistics

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