The U.S.-China trade war is set to dramatically escalate Friday as threatened higher tariffs go into effect, and President Trump is going into battle with virtually no support from the Republican Party establishment.
But that doesn’t mean Mr. Trump is fighting alone.
The president’s get-tough stance on China is bolstered by an electoral base that for years has been moving away from the GOP’s long-held free trade orthodoxy, according to conservative and business leaders who themselves oppose protectionist tariffs in trade disputes.
“We’ve recognized a lot of our own base — Republican primary voters, conservatives — they are not as favorable toward free trade anymore,” said Tim Phillips, president Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group that steadfastly opposes higher duties.
“This didn’t start with the president,” he added. “The drift started well before him, and it’s not going to end with this tariff and protectionist move.”
Americans for Prosperity plans a multiyear multi-million-dollar campaign to corral Republican voters back into the free trade stable.
Mr. Trump said Thursday that the 25 percent tariff on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods was just the beginning of his crackdown. Higher duties would hit another $16 billion worth of goods in two weeks, telling reporters en route to a rally in Montana he is prepared to considered another $500 billion in trade duties on Chinese goods if Beijing refuses to compromise.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government accused the U.S. of “firing first” in the trade war and vowed to shoot back.
Mr. Trump insists that he is a free-trader, but that for too