Republicans Are Twisting Themselves Into Knots Trying To Defend Trump's Tariffs

Some in the party of free trade are embracing the idea of imposing tariffs on Mexico.

President Donald Trump’s planned tariffs on Mexico have created a deep rift in the Republican Party, which for decades has argued in favor of low barriers to trade with other nations.

In the Senate, conservative Republicans such as Ted Cruz of Texas, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin have criticized Trump’s threat to impose up to a 25% tariff on Mexican goods if Mexico doesn’t do more to stop the growing flow of migrants crossing its northern border into the U.S. The senators warned the tariff would raise prices of imported goods, many of which are made in Mexico, effectively raising taxes on consumers.

But other Republicans have expressed support for the move despite their long-standing opposition to tariffs, calling it a necessary step to address the situation at the border. U.S. authorities said they detained more than 144,000 migrants at the border last month, a 32% jump from April.

The dilemma has required defenders of Trump to do some awkward verbal gymnastics when asked about the tariffs and their impact on their constituents.

Processing migrants on the border costs Americans, too

GOP Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who is up for reelection next year, made the case that processing migrants at the border costs Americans just as much as tariffs do.

“What’s the tax on handling 80,000 additional illegal immigrants coming across the border, housing them, adjudicating them? You’ve got to look at the total cost of the prices,” Tillis told reporters this week.

Sen. Richard Burr (R) echoed his fellow senator from the Tar Heel State: “I would only point to the cost of illegal immigrants coming to the United States today.”

But those costs are borne by the U.S. government and not by actual consumers, who could see higher prices on produce and electronic goods. Furthermore, you could use this talking point to justify raising taxes to address just about any problem that costs Americans in other ways, like potholes, pollution or health care.

We should cut taxes to nullify Trump’s tariffs

Asked about the impact of tariffs on Mexico on his constituents, who would effectively get a tax hike, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said Congress should “reduce taxes” to nullify any of their negative effects.

The feasibility of another tax cut aside, this policy would look a lot like Trump’s ongoing bailouts to farmers as a result of his trade war with China, which are costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

There are no other ways to solve the problem

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has reinvented himself on the issue of immigration twice over, surprised some observers by backing Trump’s tariffs on Mexico. He argued on Twitter that the administration’s hands are tied and that Trump has no other way to force Mexico to increase its border enforcement despite sharp opposition among the business community in the U.S.

And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has a similar approach. “I understand that [is] the problem with tariffs. I get it. But nothing else seems to be working. We tried everything,” Graham added.

We’re facing an invasion

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who is also up for reelection next year, used some stark language in arguing in support of a 25% tariff on Mexican goods.

“He has to use a hammer,” Perdue said. “We’re being invaded right now.”

We should support tariffs so there are no more tariffs

Trump defenders like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are urging the GOP to stay united so as to not undermine the president’s negotiating position with Mexico.

“We should empower the president to be able to have a strong hand in negotiation,” McCarthy told reporters Wednesday. “If members here were undercutting him, it only hurts.”

Trump won’t actually do it

But Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) ― a vocal critic of Mexico tariffs ― expressed skepticism about Trump’s threat on Tuesday. He suggested the president was simply bluffing in order to get Mexico to act on immigration.

“I do not believe you’ll see us apply tariffs on Mexico,” he said, despite the fact that Trump has imposed tariffs in past, including on allies like Canada and several European Union member nations.

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