February 12, 2020
Perhaps 2016 was too far back, but those of us old enough to remember recall Donald Trump making the trade deficit a huge campaign issue. He railed about how the United States was giving away so much money to China, Mexico, and other countries with whom we had trade deficits. He promised that this would end when he was in the White House.
For some reason, the issue of the trade deficit did not enter the Washington Post’s assessment of the extent to which Trump has followed through on his pledge to build “Fortress America.” The piece notes the reduction in immigration, fewer grants of asylum, and progress on building the wall on the border with Mexico, but it makes no mention of trade.
If it had talked about the trade the picture would not look very good for Trump. The trade deficit increased from $518.8 billion in 2016 to $632 billion in 2019. By this measure, Trump seems to be going in the wrong direction.
Even if we look at the trade deficit as a share of GDP, it is still going the wrong way under Trump. It was 2.8 percent of GDP in 2016 compared to 2.9 percent in 2019, after reaching 3.1 percent in 2018.
It is not clear why the trade deficit didn’t get included in the Washington Post’s report card on this topic, but if it did, they would have to give Trump a failing grade by his own standards.