WASHINGTON (AP) — When President Donald Trump pulled the plug on an upcoming trip to North Korea by his secretary of state, he pointed a finger of blame at China and the global superpower’s trade practices.
In his recent trade breakthrough with Mexico, Trump praised the country’s outgoing president for his help on border security and agriculture.
Both developments offered fresh evidence of how Trump has made trade policy the connective tissue that ties together different elements of his “America First” foreign policy and syncs up them with his political strategy for the 2020 presidential election.
Trump’s 2016 triumph was paved in part by his support among blue-collar voters in Midwestern manufacturing states that narrowly supported him over Democrat Hillary Clinton, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
His aggressive trade tactics, epitomized by tariffs and standoffs with longtime economic partners and allies, are aimed at reversing what he has long viewed as unfair trade deals while maintaining support among largely white, working-class voters who have been hurt by the loss of manufacturing jobs.
“Trump understands that economic policy is foreign policy and vice versa,” said Stephen Moore, a former Trump campaign adviser and visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation. “The most important element of foreign policy is to not just keep the world safe but to also promote America’s economic interest. That’s what Trump does — this is America First.”
It’s also good politics, in Trump’s view.
“It’s a populist position. But it’s also a popular position with a lot of Americans,” Moore said.
As he puts a high premium on trade gains, Trump is intertwining the issue with a host of top foreign policy concerns.