Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Wilbur, the talking Campbell's soup can
Things have apparently gotten so bad in Allegheny County that the Trump White House thought steel tariffs might rally voters to Saccone in the final days of his election campaign. The Trump surrogate had fallen behind Conor Lamb in the conservative 18th Pennsylvania district and the GOP is making a last ditch effort to salvage his campaign. It is doubtful it will do any good since Western Pennsylvania is no longer steel country. That honor falls to Indiana these days. But, what do you expect from a White House that seems stuck in the 1970s.
Trump's latest round of tariffs landed with a dull thud. No one seems particularly happy about them, certainly not Republicans who have long opposed such measures, knowing full well it will only lead to inflated steel prices. Still, the White House tried to sell the idea by sending Wilbur Ross on the talk show circuit, illustrating how a 25% bump in steel prices would have a negligible affect on canned goods. Poor ol' Wilbur doesn't seem to understand that cars and trucks and planes and ships are all made of steel, and if you raise the price of the alloy metal 25% it is going to drive the costs of these goods up far more than a Campbell's soup can.
Our President doesn't seem to mind. He thinks trade wars are good and easy to win, showing once again how hopelessly out of touch he is with the current global market. The Dow and other stock exchanges reacted as you would expect from such announcement, dropping precipitously. So, in an effort to shore up the markets, Trump's team announced it would lift the ban on leveraged buyouts, which is expected to fuel another highly speculative environment like we saw between 2006-2008.
It seems Trump wants to be a player and is taking whatever advice comes his way, bad or good, as long as it feeds the news cycle. What better way to divert attention away from another inglorious special election loss for Republicans and the ever tightening investigation by Robert Mueller that appears to have taken down at least two more members of his inner circle this past week -- Hope Hicks and Gary Cohn. As Chris Matthews said, the White House is looking like sinking ship.
The only thing that could make it worse is if the Kremlin decides to leak the infamous pee tape to the press. As it is, Trump is having to deal with the backlash from his campaign's attempt to hush Stormy Daniels. We are being treated to a virtual "golden shower" of news that makes it difficult to know which way to turn.
The problem is that Republicans keep on losing. They are already looking for ways to spin another bad loss in Western Pennsylvania, a seat that won't even exist this November as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has redrawn the gerrymandered districts to make them much more competitive this Fall.
Nothing seems secure anymore for the Republicans, not even Texas, which saw Democrats turn out in full force in the primaries, sending shivers down the GOP spine as districts they once thought safe are now up for grabs. Republicans knew they were going to take a hit this November, but I don't think anyone expected it could be potentially this bad. Even Ted Cruz has started to sweat, given how unpopular he has become.
What makes this so odd is that Republicans seemed like they had their finger on the pulse of the nation in 2016, but here they are now hoping to at least hang onto the Senate, before getting more bad news that Thad Cochran is retiring, leaving his seat open this Fall. He wasn't scheduled to defend his seat until 2020. If Alabama turned blue last December, could Mississippi change color this Fall as well?
A major part of the problem is a president and inner circle that seems utterly clueless. Even Gary Cohn thought the tariffs were a terrible idea, but Trump went along with Wilbur or whoever gave him this bad advice anyway. It's like the President is working from an election playbook written in the 1970s when the US was still a dominant power in the steel industry. The US still plays a strong role, but most American industries have come to rely on cheap imports, which is why they all balked at the talk of tariffs.
Nevertheless, Trump's minions thought this would play well among the conservative faithful in the "Rust Belt," oblivious to the fact that most of these former steel centers have rebuilt themselves, notably Pittsburgh, which is now a thriving tech center in this post-industrial society.
The Republicans never looked more anachronistic than they do now, which is why it is fitting that a young Democratic maverick like Conor Lamb is very likely to defeat Rick Saccone next Tuesday. Joe Biden was on hand to spur his candidate across the finish line.
Trump has never looked more isolated, but then this is what he pitched on the campaign trail in 2016, so sure he would resuscitate all these old industries across America. Most of the country has been making the switch to high tech, even the folks in Kentucky. This is what happens when you surround yourself with old codgers like Wilbur Smith, who don't know which end of a Campbell's soup can is up.