Trump meandered through other topics such as climate change and health care before turning his comments toward the election. He called the field of Democratic opponents “crazy” and said the economy would be hurt if one of them were elected. “I think the biggest risk is the election,” he said. “I think we’re going to do very well. I think we’re going to win it.”
Trump can point to a number of positive economic statistics as he makes his case for a second term as president.
The U.S. unemployment rate was an extremely low 3.6 percent in October, down from 4.7 percent when he took office. And with the holiday shopping season approaching, the Consumer Confidence Index remained high at 125.9 in October, up from 111.8 in January 2017.
But U.S. economic growth, which had risen to 2.9 percent in 2018 with the help of Trump’s tax cuts and his moves to cut regulation, is expected to slow to around 2.3 percent this year and decelerate even more in 2020.
“Growth and investment are beginning to decline, suggesting, if not a looming recession, then at least a period of below 2 percent growth,” said Bill Reinsch, holder of the Scholl Chair in International Business at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “One of the reasons for that is the uncertainty his policies, particularly his trade policy has generated. If you don’t know what he’s going to do next, you wait and see. You don’t invest.”
In the nearly one-hour speech in Manhattan, Trump also said the United States was “close” to striking a preliminary trade deal with China. He also called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to quickly clear the way for a vote on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.
“We have ended the war on American workers,” Trump said. “We have stopped the assault on American industry. And we have launched an economic boom the likes of which we have never seen before.”
But other analysts agreed Trump’s instincts on trade often work at cross purposes to his policies on tax and regulation, which have given the economy a boost.
“Tariffs impose new costs on businesses and consumers without adding value. Whenever a country implements an import tariff, it lowers its own economic welfare, which means it reduces the overall standard of living,” said Dan Pearson, a trade fellow at Americans for Prosperity, a free-market group supported by energy billionaire Charles Koch.
A study released Tuesday by the Port of Los Angeles estimates that Trump’s tariffs threaten nearly 1.5 million U.S. jobs and more than $186 billion of economic activity nationwide.
“This study provides graphic proof that a trade policy relying on overuse of tariffs can rebound badly on America, causing more harm than good to our long-term economic health,” said Rufus Yerxa, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, in a statement.
The study showed how Trump’s tariffs, which are as high as 25 percent on many products, has raised costs for many everyday products such as food, clothing, home appliances and consumer electronics.
“That’s bad enough, but they also cause untold damage to our most competitive manufacturers and farmers, rendering them less competitive at home and abroad as production costs increase and foreign retaliation shrinks their exports,” Yerxa said. “It is now clear that a tariff war without sensible constraints is a lose-lose proposition for the vast majority of Americans.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. budget deficit, which hit $585 billion during Barack Obama’s last year as president and which Trump vowed to eliminate in eight years, topped $1 trillion in the most recent fiscal year and is projected to reach $1.1 trillion in fiscal 2020.
Trump has also failed to rein in the trade deficit, despite an aggressive trade policy that stretched the definition of national security to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from around the world, including long-time allies in the European Union.
He also bypassed the World Trade Organization to impose unilateral tariffs on an initial $50 billion worth of Chinese goods in a showdown with Beijing over trade practices that give Chinese firms an unfair advantage and force American firms to turn over intellectual property.
That triggered several rounds of tit-for-tat retaliation and ultimately led to Trump imposing tariffs on more than $350 billion of Chinese goods and Beijing imposing duties on more than $110 billion worth of American exports.
Those tariffs have reduced the bilateral trade deficit with China from a record-high level last year. But the United States’ goods trade deficit with the entire world is on track to reach nearly $880 billion this year, up from $749.8 billion during Obama’s last year in office, as American companies turn to new suppliers for goods they previously bought from China.