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Conservative Columnist: Spiraling Economy Reflects Trump's Unpredictability

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump's comments at the G-7 come on the heels of an already chaotic week when the U.S. and China threatened each other with increasing tariffs, and President Trump ordered American companies to get out of China immediately. It isn't clear whether he has the authority to do that. The stock market took a plunge. And yet, after seeming to walk back his hard line on China, today, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said the president, quote, "regrets not raising tariffs higher."

So what do all these twists and turns mean? That's what we wanted to talk to Jennifer Rubin about. She's a conservative columnist for The Washington Post, and this morning, she published an op-ed entitled "How To Respond To A Manic President Driving The Economy Into A Ditch." And Jennifer Rubin is with us now.

Thank you for talking with us once again.

JENNIFER RUBIN: My pleasure.

MARTIN: So it's pretty clear from that title, from the headline of your piece, where you stand on all of this. But I just want to point out that you are not the only one to publish such a strongly-worded piece this weekend. I mean, your colleague, Megan McArdle, who's a self-described right-of-center columnist, a libertarian, wrote a piece titled, "When Will Trump Supporters Finally Say, OK, This Is Not Normal? (ph)" Michael Gerson is a former Republican speechwriter. He wrote a piece saying the Trump presidency is not just unfolding - it's unraveling. There was a similar piece by Max Boot, another former conservative writer. So what is it that all of you are responding to in this moment?

RUBIN: I think in this particular episode, as opposed to some of the other ones, it was the frenetic zigzag back and forth on policy. One day, he was going to have a tax cut - the next day, he wasn't. One day, he was talking about Jews being disloyal - the next day he was calling himself the chosen one. It was this frenetic pace of kind of lashing out that seemed to be discombobulated. If you had a relative that was behaving this way, you'd maybe take them in or tell them to have a nice cup of tea and sit down. This is the president of the United States.

And what we saw was what the market saw. And although I think presidents sometimes get too much blame and too much credit for the economy, here, I think there's a very real connection, which is businesspeople don't know what's coming next.

MARTIN: The European Council President Donald Tusk said something that was widely believed to have been directed at Donald Trump yesterday when he said that, quote-unquote, "senseless disputes with other countries are careening the global economy towards a recession," you pointed out in your piece that no congressional leader or presidential candidate in the United States has come out and said the same. One would think that they have at least as much stake in the American economy as Donald Tusk does. Why do you think that is?

RUBIN: I attribute the Republican silence to their general strategy of not saying or doing anything to make him even madder at them. You can call it cowardice. You can call it avoidance. You can call it self-delusion. But they have really not stood up to this president, and I think they're hoping to just stay out of his way at this point.

As far as the Democratic presidential candidates, it's a really good question, and I actually think they should. And I think there is that opportunity for Democrats to be the grown-ups here - to give a serious speech explaining the dangers of increasing tariffs, to explain the importance of an independent central bank and to lay out in their mind what would be a better strategy in terms of taking on the Chinese. I think it would make a really impressive contrast right now as the president is unspooling. And these people are running for the job, and it would be nice to hear, like, an audition. Well, if we had so-and-so, what would they sound like?

MARTIN: You know, essentially, your colleagues at the - on the Post editorial page, Megan McArdle, also wrote a piece. Again, as I mentioned, it's called, you know, "When Will Trump Supporters Finally Say, OK, This Is Not Normal?" And she says that her task to this point has been to persuade people that even if this manner of governing has its appeals to people on the right, in the long run, it's not functional. The question I think - this question continues to be, you know, why is it that this argument does not seem to be persuasive to people on the right? You know, as I think many people have noted, the president's approval rating among Republicans, self-identified Republicans, remains quite high.

RUBIN: I think what has gone on is that in the past, his crazy antics, his bigoted comments, his somewhat manic behavior didn't really seem to matter much. The economy was going strong. He wasn't slapping tariffs on people. So they got kind of into the habit of ignoring him. Now it's a whole different ballgame because what he is saying is, in fact, threatening that good economy, which was the one reason they were sticking with him in the first place.

MARTIN: You know, finally, you've - in your column, you've just laid out some of your thoughts - a step-by-step plan of managing the economic damage that you attribute to President Trump and his style of governing. You said, you know, the Democrats should give a serious speech warning of the dangers of this escalating trade war. They should reaffirm the independence of the Fed and pledge to keep politics out of the central bank - and noting that Trump has been very critical and personally insulting toward the Fed chair, whom he appointed.

You said that Democrats and the president - the presidential race should demand hearings when Congress reconvenes to analyze what's going on and explain where all this is headed, how this actually works. So your column is very much directed toward political elites and, like, what they should do. Is there something that you think citizens should be doing right now?

RUBIN: Registering to vote, perhaps (laughter). You know, this is the problem - that an ordinary citizen doesn't have much leverage. But there are citizens who do, and that is the business community. And I think he does listen to them. And when you have someone like Josh Bolten, who was with the George Bush administration - Bush 43 - go on national television and essentially plead with the president to stop this kind of stuff, that may have some effect. So I think the people who have influence with Trump because he sees them as peers as opposed to political opponents and who make economic decisions - now would be a really good time for them to weigh in, either privately or publicly, and let him know exactly what's going on.

It was interesting today that one of his closest international allies, Boris Johnson, weighed in and needled him just a little bit about these trade deals. And I actually think that's the right approach. It has to come from people who he thinks are like him and on his side for him to perhaps accept some guidance and to begin to calm things down and maybe even roll things back a bit.

MARTIN: That is Jennifer Rubin, opinion writer at The Washington Post.

Jennifer, thanks so much for talking with us once again.

RUBIN: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF FISHMANS' "BABY BLUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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